It's breaktime at Edlington school in south Yorkshire. While many students rush out to enjoy the early spring sunshine, others have more commercial activities in mind. At one end of a corridor, a team of sixth formers sit behind a desk, dealing with a queue of younger students holding bank books. At the other end, half a dozen girls are selling handmade jewellery, candles and an ingenious device for holding carrier bags.
The two schemes have developed out of the Pathways Towards Working Life Project, with is being piloted at Edlington and 16 other primary and secondary schools in Doncaster, Cheshire and Lewisham. In both cases, with the help of local sponsorship, students are being introduced to the world of work as part of their school curriculum.
Ann Johnson, 17, is manager of the school bank. Like her colleagues, she had to formally apply for her job. With no previous experience of the world of finance, she now has to ensure that all transactions are dealt with correctly and that the books balance. She's now considering a career in accountancy or banking.
"I've had to learn to cope with crises, presentation and co-ordinating skills, and how banks operate," she says. "It's good for my record of achievement. And I've got more confidence about personal finance."
Along the corridor, managing director Rebecca Guy and her team - Buckweed Productions - have just sold a pair of bead earrings to a teacher. This weekend, this Young Enterprise group will be at the European trade fair in the Netherlands.
Again, up to last year, none of the girls had any experience of business. Thanks to local executives, they have learned all about shareholders, profits, taxes, registration fees, and even how to buy other school companies which have gone into liquidation, as well as the complete manufacturing process. Now they are considering careers in management, administration and retail. And link teacher Keith Melling admits that he has been very impressed by their commitment: "Board meetings are nice. Trade fairs are nice. But it's the workshop - going in, knowing what to do and then doing it, giving up their time - that's the hard part."
Both groups are on target to meet the student outcomes for key stage 4, Knowledge and Understanding of Work and Business, as set down in the Pathways project: learning about wealth creation; private, public and voluntary services; learning responsibilities of employers and employees. In addition, personal finance is part of key stage 4 Knowledge and Understanding of the Developing Self and of Personal Skills; knowing what skills are required for the world of work is part of Knowledge and Understanding of Opportunities, Choices, Responsibilities and Rights; information about types of products and packaging is covered by Knowledge and Understanding of the Influences of the Economy and the Environment on Life.
These four components replace the previous five cross-curricular themes (economic and industrial understanding; careers guidance; health; environmental education and citizenship) which, often "dumped" into personal and social education, disappeared during Sir Ron Dearing's national curriculum review. The Pathways project has substantially revised them, placing more emphasis on integration and providing a national, holistic, work-related curriculum, instead of presenting information about working life towards the end of the school career in a series of unrelated activities.
It is hoped that the new approach, which starts with student outcomes and then works backwards, will help schools sharpen up good practice and develop better co-ordination and management. By stressing the importance of real life situations, it also aims to help employers play a more central role in the learning process, moving away from "bolt on" and "one-off" activities and projects.
The 1,100-pupil Edlington already had a good track record of links with business when the Doncaster Education Business Partnership bid to pilot the Pathways scheme. A school-industry partnership was already in existence, members of staff and experienced industry through short placements, and the cross-curricular themes were being taught throughout subject areas, particularly within PSE. But the school jumped at the chance to try Pathways, introduced last September.
Says head teacher Andy White, "Pathways gives us a framework for dealing with the themes at subject point, for improving links between different subject areas, and for moving the emphasis in PSE away from content and into tutor guidance. In addition, input from business partners was previously bitty and intermittent. This makes it more purposeful. And students should see clearer patterns in the way they're working, what and where they can achieve. Altogether, it's a logical progression of what we were doing already."
However, as he and deputy headproject manager Meryl Gray point out, this first year is very much the planning stage of the four-stage process (plan, apply, record, review). To date, they have assessed their existing programme, identified missing elements, developed an action plan in conjunction with their business partners, set out to find new partners, and begun to put their new Guidance Programme (formerly PSE) into practice, as well as training the 63-strong teaching staff.
They initially asked specific groups - science and technology, history geography and RE - to amend their schemes of work to include Pathways. Health and safety, for example, was previously covered in science and technology and PSE. Now, healthy eating, hygiene and sex and drugs education will be dealt with in science, freeing the guidance tutor to do just that. So it's much more activity and discussion-based, rather than booklet-based, "which gives the tutor the higher role of personal enhancer rather than content supplier, " says Andy White. "Our aims have always been breadth, balance and relevance. The difference Pathways makes is in emphasising the links across the subject areas and the world of work, and showing that lessons aren't little boxes separate from anything else. It's a continuum of experience around one theme, from primary through to post-16."
Pupils at Warmsworth Primary, one of Edlington's feeder schools, are also involved in the pilot."Partnership is part of our ethos," explains head Ray Horsfield, "but Pathways has enabled us to focus in on specifics. We've started with the school itself as a business and worked from that out into the community. The use of your community is part of good primary practice. Many schools have industrial or business links for a time and for one area of study, but links should form a true, on-going partnership."
His own school has fostered links with a local quarry which offers opportunities for every subject area - English, maths, science and technology, music, RE. As well as the science element, pupils have created jingles about litter and dust problems; looked at the moral issue of destroying a Victorian village to build the quarry; written letters to their local paper discussing the issue.
But isn't three-plus rather young to introduce the world of work? "No. We're developing the young mind, and the earlier we can develop the independent citizen the better. It's not just the world of work. It's life." At Edlington, this September will see the changes in PSE and in schemes of work for Years 7, 8 and 10 being implemented. Post-16s will be targeted at the end of the two-year project, which is being externally evaluated by the Office for Standards in Education.
"It's a big jigsaw job," admits Meryl Gray. "A lot of individual parts are undramatic but it marks a major shift of emphasis through the whole curriculum. Before, people did mapping exercises which were then put into a filing cabinet and forgotten. Now, they contract in, take responsibility for it. It's very exciting."
And no, she says firmly, it's not just another paper exercise. Something Richard Martineau is glad to hear. Chairman of the London Enterprise Agency and a former National Curriculum Council member, he's one of the industrialists behind the Pathways project. And he's delighted with the response so far - 350 schools have requested the document, from as far afield as Abu Dhabi and Japan. "It fills a real need," he says. "It gives teachers a framework to build on, while leaving them to decide how to achieve the outcomes. And it gives businesses an agenda, showing them where their help is most needed and what they have to offer schools."
But it's important to remember, he adds, that this is a pilot project with 18 months to go. Andy White agrees, "I'd say to any other school going down this road, take your time and plan carefully. Make use of existing good practice and existing partnerships, and the framework will tell you where you need to innovate."
But is there any point in Pathways Towards a Working Life with the current unemployment situation? "Absolutely yes," says Richard Martineau. "We've sent the framework to 55 employers engaged in recruitment and asked if it adequately represents the changing nature of work, from full-time to part-time, short-time, self-employment, voluntary work. We've already had 10 very thoughtful replies from firms like Rolls Royce and Barclays Bank, and they've all been supportive. The key to employment in the future will be far more self-motivation and initiative, and the idea of lifetime learning, and that's all built into Pathways."
o Details of the Pathways Towards Working Life Project from the London Enterprise Agency, 4 Snow Hill, London EC1A 2BS