When you walk through the corridors of St Stephen's High in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, into the former home economics department, it is almost like entering a different world.
The pound;750,000 enterprise centre's plush reception area has three clocks giving the time in Tokyo, locally and in New York. This is where pupils and adult learners sign in and out as they might at any office or business centre.
There is a state-of-the-art computer room with four six-person pods, a bank of printers and multi-media presentation equipment; a small meeting room for a maximum of four people, with wall-mounted whiteboards; a boardroom which seats 16 and has a DVD, video and interactive board linked to an electronic data projector for multi-media presentations; and a conference suite capable of accommodating 70 people in theatre style, with multi-media presentation equipment and air-conditioning.
The library zone is a bright, multi-coloured quiet area where people can browse through a selection of learning and job search resources. The centre benefits from in-house catering services and the cafe zone has three access points to the internet. A piped music system runs throughout.
"This is about creating a business environment for young people, a warm, professional, creative environment for them to work in," says the enterprise centre's manager, Robert Lamb. "Experience to date suggests we were right to think along these lines.
"We've seen unbelievable changes in pupils' attitudes and there has been no vandalism at all. Not even the pot-pourri in the toilets has been disturbed.
"The pupils act differently, especially those on our S2 virtual work experience programme. They appreciate the place should be kept in a business way and we make it clear we don't tolerate bad behaviour, but if I had to exclude somebody I don't think I'd be doing my job. It's about pupils taking responsibility for their actions, taking pride in what they're doing and in seeing that what they are doing matters and relates to the world of work," he says.
When it was opened in March, every S2 pupil at St Stephen's High underwent a week-long virtual work experience programme at the centre over a nine-week period last term and this term all the S2 pupils at Port Glasgow High will complete the programme, which in effect means every S2 pupil in the town will have attended.
The programme aims to raise attainment, identify and develop core skills, promote personal development, highlight future opportunities, introduce pupils to working life, instil self-confidence and self-belief and encourage a "can do" attitude. It also serves as an introduction to the centre for lifelong learning.
"One pupil generally designated not the most positively behaved in the school, proved to be one of our best," says Mr Lamb.
"Another S2 pupil, a girl with a good academic record, was petrified - absolutely petrified - about doing her presentation. I talked her through it and she did a great job in front of the senior management team, business colleagues and fellow pupils. Four weeks after, she stopped me in the corridor and said: 'Robert, I never got the chance to thank you for making me do that presentation. Even my mum says I'm more confident now'." It is just that "can do" attitude which businesses say they are looking for, says Mr Lamb.
"There is no bell here because we want to get away from the school bell mentality. If the pupils are working on an important part of their project, we encourage them to continue," says Mr Lamb. "They can still hear the bell in the school.
"At first they find it strange but soon see the sense of it. After the first day they start to come back of their own accord during breaks to continue work on their projects."
Joe Bryant, St Stephen's High's acting headteacher, says: "The centre is already beginning to impact on behaviour positively and we are beginning to see the benefits of the information technology and presentation skills the pupils bring back into class.
"For an S2 pupil to give a presentation in front of senior management, especially a pupil with additional support needs, is some achievement.
"Team working has been a great asset to them, along with the boost in confidence and self-esteem."
Pupils are encouraged to use the centre at lunchtimes and after school.
Senior students use it for study and research, including completing and submitting their university admission forms online. Pupils doing ASDAN, a scheme not dissimilar to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and which promotes and records qualities, abilities and achievements as well as introducing new activities, do some elements of it at the centre, and Young Enterprise pupils make use of the boardroom, flip charts and presentation boards.
"Last year Young Enterprise students made pound;900 running a project management business which put on the Christmas school show, a talent competition and laser discos. They raised their own sponsorship and sold all the tickets, along with Christmas products," says Mr Lamb.
Another group of S4 enterprise pupils used the centre to help with running Maxcess, a retail business maximising the commercial opportunities provided by Christmas, St Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day. Selling cards, toys, mugs and other gifts, they made pound;950 in two school sessions.
The centre runs an open door policy and has already attracted regular interest from adults in the community without any marketing. Community courses already scheduled include basic computing, the internet and e-mail, intermediate computing (SQA qualification), advanced computing (the European Computer Driving Licence and Advanced ECDL), web design, desktop publishing and digital photography.
"Running eight adult classes with over 100 people involved made for a very promising start last session," says Mr Lamb.
The centre also intends to work with James Watt College in Greenock to provide courses for pupils and adults in the community. "If we can get eight people interested in a course, the college says it will run it here," says Mr Lamb. "This is advantageous for pupils who might want to do a course the school doesn't offer, such as psychology, but it's equally good for local adult learners who might be intimidated by the idea of going to college.
"These courses, like all our courses, will be linked to employment opportunities," he says.
The adults enter separately - not through the school, for security reasons - but pupils and adults learn together, sometimes in the presence of visiting business managers.
"This is the kind of atmosphere we want to create. We want this to be a business learning facility for the whole community," says Mr Lamb.
The centre is financed by Inverclyde Council, Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire, European Funds (urban II) and the private sector business partners National Semiconductor (UK), T-Mobile and IBM (UK), who between them have given pound;90,000 as well as support in kind, such as graphic design, call centre training and public relations and communications help.
Local business partners will be encouraged to work with the centre when recruiting and assist in programmes tailored for employment. Careers Scotland will also use the centre to offer bespoke services to adults, and organisations such as Scottish Enterprise will use it to deliver seminars and training, such as in e-commerce and starting a business.
Mr Bryant says the key to the project is that it is a community resource.
"It will fast become a fully timetabled resource and then booking into it will become an issue.
"It's only a matter of time before our associate primary schools will want to get involved."
Gerry Edwards, vice-president and managing director of National Semiconductor (UK), says: "We're pleased to have been involved in this innovative project from the start. Training, education and learning new skills all play a vital part in driving our local economy forward and it's vital that the centre offers opportunities to everyone in the community."
Robert Lamb will talk about "St Stephen's Enterprise: Learn to Earn" at the SETT 2004 show in Glasgow on September 22. A 12-page show preview will appear in TES Scotland on September 17
S2 virtual work experience
Pupils are given a challenge involving team work and problem solving. They are asked questions such as: What does success mean to you? Where do you want to be in 15 years? They are given an introduction to the centre and a brainstorming session designed to motivate.
Using a business model for assessing situations, two groups (about 10 pupils in each) review products, research the internet and generate ideas for a project. Examples include organising a function to open the centre, plans for marketing the centre, producing a newsletter, creating a website and plans for regenerating Port Glasgow.
Establishing the project: planning and beginning to put the plan into action. Pupils work a lot on their own, as in the business world. This might involve interviewing teaching staff, sending email, using telephones and the internet.
Completing the project and beginning work on the team presentation. Pupils are given training in PowerPoint software and how to give a 15-minute slide presentation. The teams do a mock run and make any improvements.
Pupils develop their presentation skills and practise with screens and microphones. The presentation is prepared on a laptop computer.
In the afternoon the teams give their presentation, typically to the headteacher, senior staff, enterprise centre and learning support staff, members of the local business community and the other team. All the team members have to take part, speaking about at least one presentation slide.
The week's work is then evaluated and the learning outcomes reviewed. Fun topics may be introduced to finish off the week.
Robert Lamb, manager of the St Stephen's High enterprise centre, says:
"When one group presents, the other group are always really attentive and usually full of applause at the end. The two groups tend to be very supportive of each other as well as learning to work together as a single team."