A job well done

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Glasgow aims to slash school leaver unemployment by 2004 with a new city-wide education programme. Raymond Ross visited St Margaret Mary's in Castlemilk, one of a dozen pilot schools, to see how they have set about achieving it

When the English rugby team recently thrashed the Scots and sent them homeward from Twickenham to think again, the denizens of the Scottish Borders, pupils and former pupils from Edinburgh's rugby schools and the patrons of Glasgow's west end wineries were undoubtedly experiencing a collective depression. But that mild and passing depression also moved into a new and hitherto unexpected area, Glasgow's Castlemilk.

Though hardly a traditional bastion of the game played by men using oddly shaped balls, a new team has emerged there in the most adverse of circumstances: Castlemilk United.

The brainchild of Mike Hughes, senior project officer for the Castlemilk Economic Development Agency, Castlemilk United - CEDA's "Beyond School Project" - attracts some 30 S2-S4 boys, and some girls, to its evening training sessions and Saturday morning games.

The team is just one of a raft of strategies aiming to promote self-esteem and a "can do" attitude among pupils with the specific aim of reducing school-leaver unemployment in the vast housing scheme.

"It's about getting involved and getting to know people, and letting them get to know you," says Mike Hughes. "If young people meet you on a variety of levels, they're much more likely to open up to you about job prospects or college places. Like everything to do with the Beyond School Project, it's about an ethos which is welcoming, caring and supportive."

The ethos and success of the year-old team, which recently won its first game and which draws its members from St Margaret Mary's Secondary and Castlemilk High School (hence "United"), is all the more impressive when you consider that there are no rugby pitches in Castlemilk, so all games are away games, and that week-night training - and tackling - takes place on astroturf I A school of hard knocks, indeed.

The spirit of United exemplifies much about the project as a whole, which offers vocational guidance and assistance on a daily basis to young people, teachers and parents, with Mr Hughes dividing his time between the two schools.

"The careers service may come in one day a week but I'm around more or less all the time to talk to staff, pupils and parents as well as to run lunchtime, after-school and holiday schemes.

"I work with a variety of professionals in CEDA , people working in IT or child development professionals. It's a holistic approach, very much inter-agency, drawing on expertise and bringing people into the school, including from the world of the arts and sports.

"You have to counter the pupils' sense of isolation and challenge what might be their lack of knowledge of career opportunities. You have to get them into the jargon. For a start: get them talking about degrees and HNCs, and to think about less well-known areas of employment including tourism, entertainment and the arts, especially as Glasgow is burgeoning now in these sectors - the 'new Dublin' as people are calling it."

Among the initiatives already in place at St Margaret Mary's are lunchtime job clubs, career-related talks, holiday programmes related to improved career prospects, curricular links with industry, work experience, mock interviews, vocational visits, enterprise and industry conferences, after-school clubs, part-time jobs and a careers library.

"You need whole school commitment to make a project like this work," says Mr Hughes. "New ideas and flexible approaches to vocational guidance are paramount to our success here and at Castlemilk High."

Headteacher Pat Scanlan illustrates the point by saying that 60 per cent of staff work as volunteer mentors with pupils and they meet together on a weekly basis to review progress in academic, social and pastoral terms.

"The mentor is a concerned adult, an extra relationship, which reinforces the individual pupil's sense of belonging in school. It nurtures it. That's basic.

"We chase our pupils up. We knock on doors. We phone them if they're not attending," he says.

"We've had a careers centre in the school for two years. It's a drop-in facility with computer packages on careers.

"Every year guidance does an S3 survey to find out what jobs pupils are interested in. We use this to bring in speakers, do follow up career interviews and so on.

"In our school, and I think it's pretty unique, every pupil covers the Scottish Qualifications Authority's work experience module and every pupil is visited on work experience.

"That's what I call staff commitment and ethos. That means around 120 visits per session, done entirely voluntarily.

"But it's also tied closely to the curriculum. The English department, for example, will encourage talk and written folio pieces from the pupils based on their work experience."

Glasgow's education business partnership also provides mentors to high-achieving S3 pupils. It's part of a city-wide scheme," says Mr Scanlan. "EBP offers pupils role model mentors from the world of business."

St Margaret Mary's is one of 12 education action plan and new community secondary schools involved in the development of a pre-vocational programme which the City of Glasgow is setting up and which it hopes to extend to all its schools by August 2002.

The main objective is to halve the present average of 20 per cent school leaver unemployment in the city by 2004.

The success of St Margaret Mary's, with the CEDA Beyond School Project's input, makes it a model of good practice with 41 per cent of pupils going straight into jobs and only 12 per cent heading for the dole; and this in a school which has 63 per cent on free school meals and 84 per cent on a clothing grant.

"You can't look at your education for work strategy in isolation," says Pat Scanlan. "It's about motivating pupils, staff and the community. You have to encourage a 'can do' mentality and look at quality employment."

In terms of quality employment, Mike Hughes gives the example of a recent school visit to Centre One, the Inland Revenue office at East Kilbride. "It's only five miles away and it employs 1,700 people, but not one of them is from Castlemilk. We took pupils there, and then they came to the school to give a talk. They've promised to make it a priority now to look to Castlemilk for future employees," says Mr Hughes.

Singular initiatives like this are to be embedded in a new curricular approach which is central to the pre-vocational programme the city envisages.

"The economic indicators for the city are good, especially in areas like construction and hospitality (catering, hotels, restaurants). Both areas are talking about severe skills shortages," says Glasgow's depute director of education, Richard Barron.

"To begin with, we intend to offer pre-vocational courses in construction and hospitality. There will be an option column in the timetable, so that a pupil can opt to do either of these along with their other Standard grades in S3 and S4.

"It's for mainstream pupils on a mainstream course and not specifically for low or non-achievers, though we hope to make inroads here too.

"If at the end of two years a pupil decides it's not for them, it would simply be the same as deciding that chemistry or geography is not for them," he says, denying any arguments that vocational training might be foisted on pupils too early.

Nor will it be a two-tier system, says George Mackie, Glasgow's schools industry liaison officer. "To get on in the construction industry nowadays, for example, you need good grades in other subjects anyway. So it's not a second-tier option," he says.

"Hospitality will be certificated through SQA units and construction will be either SQA or industry accredited at the level of first year apprenticeships.

"We are keen to ensure progression. In construction you could go on to a full apprenticeship or, similarly, in hospitality you could go on to college or straight into the industry.

"There are different exit points. These are not dead-end courses," he says.

Courses will be delivered by further education lecturers and and the city's building services (in the case of construction) who will also support teachers and there will be space for enhanced personal and social education to develop soft skills.

An average of three 55-minute periods per week will be divided between double periods out of school (college, work experience or training centre) and a single period in school, in which PSE will be involved.

"This is the way forward," says Richard Barron. "It is a model of achieving something other than Standard grades without disrupting other departmental timetables and it is a model which has emerged out of hard discussions with headteachers."

St Margaret Mary's head, Pat Scanlan, agrees: "You have to meet real careers opportunities. About 20-25 per cent of the school population will be involved.

The curriculum for the new courses will be developed centrally or through colleges, and delivered by college and school staff. It will mean a lot of out of school, real work experience and college visits for the pupils," he says.

Commitment will be the name of the game for both staff and pupils, says Mr Barron. "Pupils spend some 170 hours over two years for a Standard grade but an apprenticeship study course can involve up to 400 hours. We will need to inject significant time over summer and other holiday periods and in supported study to make up the hours."

If the courses prove successful, it is proposed that the programme be extended to include other vocational areas such as media creative industries; business administration; information and communications technology and childcare.

Regarding ICT, Glasgow is already in "close discussions", along with Learning and Teaching Scotland, with the multi-national company Cisco Systems.

"They run Cisco academies in the USA and we hope to do something with them in the near future," says Mr Barron. "There's a lot of local interest because they are setting up in Glasgow and are already talking to the Govan Initiative and ourselves."

"It makes sense to be pro-active and doing something when you've got the 20 per cent who will potentially become unemployed still in schools," says George Mackie. "Do something now, rather than hunt around for them when they've left."

"It's about life chances and economic participation, which a lot of professional people just take for granted. The key is that there are growing employment opportunities in Glasgow. Let's make the young people well-equipped to access jobs as well as further and higher education" says Mr Barron.

Both St Margaret Mary's and Castlemilk High are due for a complete refurbishment.

"Grass pitches," says Mike Hughes. "If we get them for football, then I" He raises his eyebrows as high almost as rugby posts.

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