Schools in Scotland are coming under increasing pressure from inspectors to forge closer links with industry. This will require goodwill from industry and enthusiasm and creativity from schools, says Bob McMillan, assistant headteacher at Grangemouth High, Falkirk.
"But it's not necessarily easy. Teachers at all levels are subject to increasing pressures, the benefits of links can seem intangible, and pursuing them is often considered low priority compared to more obvious concerns like improving exam results," he says.
"However, at Grangemouth we've put a lot of time and effort into creating and maintaining links with local industry."
Grangemouth is one of the schools selected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for a report on good practice in education for work.
"It's all about motivating pupils and educating them to the needs of employers," says Mr McMillan. "As industries become more sophisticated, they're demanding more from job applicants, so the kids can no longer walk into a job.
"Also, children don't always listen to parents or teachers, but if a young man or woman who's running their own company or has a key role in an organisation talks to them, it can be much more effective."
A good example of Grangemouth's links with BP is an English project that has been running for four years.
"Our English department thought it would be helpful if all Secondary 3 pupils had a common experience they could use for a class talk to be assessed for Standard grade. So we sat down with BP, and Frank McKeever, their education co-ordinator, identified areas of the company the kids could visit, such as the drawing office, the labs, the fire station, the environmental section, the apprentice-training workshops, even the canteen."
Mr McKeever says: "The kids decide which department they fancy, and the whole year group, nearly 200 kids, accompanied by their teachers, descend on BP in three different visits. Later on, we invite a dozen of them and their parents to a presentation evening at BP, where the kids give talks to an audience that includes our departmental managers."
Mr McKeever spends a lot of time working with schools because, he says, it's important they understand how the company operates. "My aim is to get teachers and educators to think of our company as a resource."
Mr McMillan says: "This project with BP is a good exemplar of educationindustry activities that could be replicated in other schools. It involves the whole year group, it supports the curriculum, teaches the kids what industry is about, enhances personal effectiveness and is good for staff development.
"What's more, the links needn't only be about science and technology. We run activities that involve English, art, chemistry, computing, physics, home economics, music, technical and social education."