Pupils prove slick operators

They may not grasp how big an offshore oil rig is, but Newtonhill Primary children are impressed with the onboard facilities

Jean McLeish

They may look small in their boardroom chairs, but members of the pupil council at Newtonhill Primary are big on expertise when it comes to the oil and gas industry.

Their business partnership with international energy service company AMEC in Aberdeen has given them the inside track on life offshore - and won a top award for the company from the Offshore Contractors' Association, the lead representative body for the oil and gas contracting and supply industry.

The firm's engineers have boosted the pupils' skills, helping them to become north-east champions in the K'Nex Challenge. And the pupils get to use AMEC's boardroom for some of their pupil council meetings, which gives the proceedings a professional edge. This Aberdeenshire school is just a few miles south of Aberdeen, in the coastal village of Newtonhill beside the North Sea, but already they know a lot about the business. "It's really nice inside the oil rig," says Jennifer Leiper (P7).

"They have lots of safety equipment for the people who work offshore to put on before you can start work," says Kate Fairclough (P67).

They have a visual aid for this, because headteacher Linda Cruickshank has been photographed in a survival suit, which the pupil council members now pass around.

"They have just finished their Britsats project out in the North Sea," says Harry Tremain (P7).

The Britannia Satellites Project involved installing a new platform alongside the existing Britannia platform to handle production from the Brodgar and Callanish fields. The children are well up on all this, thanks to the photographs of the venture on display in the school. "After what they showed us, it looked good - all the facilities. They had a mini-cinema on the platform," says Harry, who may consider a career in the industry.

The partnership between the company and the school was set up nearly two years ago under the Scottish Executive's Determined to Succeed initiative to encourage enterprise in education. And it has been nurtured with hard work by school staff and by Pavlos Phokas, health and safety adviser at AMEC, and his team. He described comparisons used to help children understand the industry: "A platform can weigh as much as 30,000 cars, and can produce enough gas for the whole of Aberdeen. The height of a platform is twice that of the London Eye or the distance between Aberdeen and a platform is the same as the distance between Aberdeen and Edinburgh."

Mrs Cruickshank outlined how the partnership agreement was developed: "Initially, when we got together, we actually did a business plan with them. All schools are striving in all the various areas - health promotion, enterprise and citizenship, attainment and achievement, A Curriculum for Excellence and our Eco Schools work. So we spoke with them about all these areas we thought they could help with."

ACfE is central to the partnership, with a strong focus on science and technology used to key into AMEC expertise and enhance the curriculum. The school was already on target for its Gold Award for Enterprise when the partnership began, but the link with AMEC was the next vital step.

There have been dozens of joint projects, from support with a health magazine to presentations on first aid, which have inspired the school to start children on a first-aid training programme. The school is now in the final stages of work towards its Eco School's Green Flag - another area of partnership working.

Mrs Cruickshank says children were shrewd in their questions: "They were asking probing questions, such as: 'What would you do if there was a fire?' and 'How do you know that would work?'"

The Offshore Contractors' Association made another award to 27-year-old Kirsty Beetham, the Future Star Award for Training. Kirsty works with Wood Group Engineering (North Sea) Ltd and has been working voluntarily with school children as a science and engineering ambassador. "One of the things I do is go into schools and help run the after-school science club - so I go to the local school, Tullos Primary, and also into Kittybrewster Primary," she says.

Kirsty was also presiding judge in the regional final of Junior Engineers for Britain K'Nex Challenge.

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Jean McLeish

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