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Lessons in life that are fun

Warwick Mansell reports on a project in Wigan which takes children out of the classroom and into the workplace.

THEY sound like perfect days out for pupils tiring of the often relentless grind of classroom work.

For many youngsters, the chance to spend a few hours aboard a canal boat, visiting a working farm, learning how a local newspaper is produced, or even meeting your sporting heroes sounds like too good an opportunity to miss.

But researchers investigating an innovative scheme which lays on all these activities for thousands of youngsters in greater Manchester, have concluded that the benefits gained from the project may be about more than having fun.

By successfully combining the visits with structured lessons, schools can both raise pupils' results and their self-esteem.

That, at least, is the verdict of inspectors after a visit to the acclaimed "Classrooms in Companies" project, in Wigan.

Founded seven years ago as a partnership between the local authority and business, the project offers around 14,000 pupils a year the chance of days out of school to study in a working environment.

Among the 11 attractions on offer to the youngsters, aged five to 19, are learning, on board a barge on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, what life was like on the waterways, and a behind-the-scenes trip to Wigan rugby league stadium.

Perhaps less glamorously, pupils are also offered the chance to learn about water treatment and electricity production at a utilities plant, and about the building trade at the local further education college.

The difference with this scheme is that, as its name suggests, the pupils are actually taught within specially-created classrooms during the visit, their teachers conducting the lessons in harness with the company's employees.

Teachers are seconded from schools to work one day a week in the centres, alongside the industrialists. All of the work is tied to the curriculum.

Office for Standards in Education inspectors, investigating the project during an inspection of the local authority, highlighted a recent Manchester Metropolitan University study which said the activities improved pupils' general motivation and their understanding of the way industry works.

The benefits extended beyond the subject studied during the visits, said researcher Sybil Lavin. Teachers, spurred by their closer links with industry, were more likely to make the rest of their teaching more "relevant" for pupils.

Each curriculum centre costs pound;100,000 to run, around half of it provided in cost or kind by the company, and the rest by the Wigan Partnership, an innovative 10-year-old arrangement between the local authority and local business leaders which aims to attract investment to the borough. The scheme could be seen as a model for links between schools and industry, which the Government is keen to encourage.

Val Salter, a teacher adviser for the project, says: "This is about more than giving pupils a day out and a change of scene. It gives them a real insight into the world of work, and the variety of jobs available, while at the same time stimulating their classwork. It is really valued by the teachers whose schools take part."

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