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Route finders to labour market

A team of teachers have won national recognition for their efforts to raise achievement and steer students towards realistic career goals, writes Katrina Tweedie

Children think they can do anything, until they grow up. Many spend their school years dreaming of celebrity and fortune; more often the reality is less glamorous.

Careers guidance forms a vital part of a child's preparation for the world of work and five teachers at Claremont High in St Leonards, East Kilbride, have devised an innovative careers programme which seems to improve academic results. They have been named Scotland's Careers Co-ordinating Team of the Year for their work in steering children to achieve realistic goals.

The team, lead by Peter Reid, the depute headteacher, believes pupils with a clear career path are more focused and determined to achieve in all areas of school life.

"We emphasise careers education because if the pupils have a long-term target they are better motivated to study and more determined to succeed," he says.

He believes improved exam results are, in part, due to the school's long-term goal-orientated careers programme. "Our Standard grades in particular and Higher English exam results were very good last year, bucking the national trend," he says.

The team has devised a specific careers project for every year at the school. By liaising with the school's feeder primaries, children as young as 10 and 11 have been introduced to enterprise activities which continue when they join S1. Second year pupils have their own career's day, with 18 workshops from visiting colleges and businesses. And third year pupils are encouraged to develop enterprise initiatives.

Driven in part by the Scottish Executive's push for enterprise education and active citizenship, every fourth year pupil at Claremont High attends a work experience placement, 80 per cent of which are self-placements. "It means that they are writing to companies and doing the legwork, which is more like the real world," says Mr Reid.

The school also goes to pains to prepare pupils for interviews for jobs and university places. "It's not enough to have five A passes these days," says Mr Reid.

"At interviews for the courses in demand, such as medicine or media, they are looking for work experience. We have 56 pupils in the current sixth year who are doing work experience of one kind or another."

Negotiating a career path is easiest for motivated pupils. However, the Scottish Executive's flexible curriculum arrangements allow the school more scope for pupils who are less inspired by an academic curriculum. Some of these fourth and fifth year pupils have been put on extended work experience while others attend vocational day release courses at South Lanarkshire College. This allows the pupils to get experience in careers such as building, joinery or nursery education, before they embark on a job or a modern apprenticeship.

"It has motivated some pupils who were in danger of becoming school refusers. They have been brought back on board," says Mr Reid. "They get college, which they are doing well in, and they are also attending school much more regularly."

One boy who showed no motivation at school, excelled in work experience at a local farming museum. He has continued to attend there once a week and teachers have reported a tremendous improvement in his attitude at school.

Christmas leavers also benefit from the flexible curriculum. Instead of coming back to school for three months and achieving very little, staff can arrange college places for them.

"It's about making the curriculum suit the individual pupil," explains Mr Reid.

Sixth year pupils are given the opportunity for mock interviews with businesses who have formed links with the school. One spin-off was a series of real interviews by one of the main partners, the Bank of Scotland, which offered a dozen part-time jobs to pupils going on to higher education.

The careers team say their job is to motivate pupils but carefully explain the realities of work.

Fiona Downey, an English teacher on the team, says: "Kids rely on adults to keep it real with regular discussions about where they can go and what they can do to achieve their goals."

Jim McGuire, a chemistry teacher, says: "You constantly have to make kids aware of what's going on. Careers days give them ideas but the next week they may have forgotten. We need to remind them constantly."

Eddie Holmes, a technical studies teacher, says: "For the majority of kids, having a quick chat with a guidance teacher is enough. Others have to be taken by the hand and led to an employer. But we are giving them a good start to be able to find work and survive for themselves."

Jean Geddes, of Careers Scotland, says: "It is not our job to thwart ambition but to look at people's skills and abilities and match that to the realities of the labour market. With the help of careers guidance at schools we turn around people's lives."

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