Secondments to industry for teachers can be good for both schools and companies. Michael Prestage reports.
A company suggestion scheme for Baxter Healthcare, a US multinational corporation, and a computer database to measure, monitor and improve performance are two of the projects that deputy headteacher Jane Still has developed during a year's secondment to industry. She also worked on an audit to improve internal communications within the company.
Jane Still, of Rosemary Musker High School, joined Baxter last September under the expanding Heads, Teachers and Industry scheme. The company is based near the school in Thetford, Norfolk.
She says: "I had been a deputy head for four years and I thought this was a unique opportunity. I deal with staffing issues at school and working in the human resources department here has helped me to learn how industry deals with these issues."
It was a bonus that Baxter is close to the school: a number of pupils find work with the company and many parents are employed there.
"Everyone has been really warm and welcoming," she says, "but there was a lack of understanding and perception of what I would be doing and what a teacher could bring to industry."
On a personal level, the placement has improved her information and communications technology skills. She has gained from working on her own and by running projects. She has also been involved in publicity, marketing and handling presentations to senior managers.
The placement has included team-building courses, assertiveness training and a seminar on managing attendance. What she has learnt will have implications for her school.
Jane Still believes that the emphasis Baxter places on strategic planning could be replicated at Rosemary Musker High. It is something that the school does not do too well. "We will look at more long-term planning," she says.
As a result of the stronger links between the school and Baxter, six teachers and the top set of science students have been allowed to tour the plant and the school's three technology staff have been given access to the company's open learning centre. A Baxter employee has agreed to validate pupils' records of achievement and the training manager is to run a team-building workshop for the school's senior managers.
"Being at Baxter's has been brilliant in-service training," says Jane Still. "In terms of professional development, it has been refreshing. I have mastered new skills and it has made me more confident about my own ability."
She says the secondment has shown her how good teachers are at multi-tasking and highlighted their ability to be flexible. "While I have learnt a lot of things that can be taken back to school, equally it has shown up many areas where the school is doing well. I certainly don't think industry always has all the answers."
Chris Williams, the plant manager, said Baxter has benefited from having someone from outside and from a non-manufacturing environment looking at areas of the workplace.
"The programme has been very successful. Both sides have gained. It is a win-win situation," he says. "Education is something very important to us here. We would consider taking another placement in the right conditions."
Mike Brindle, headteacher at Rosemary Musker High, says the drawback is the loss for a year of a valuable member of staff who could not be adequately replaced - while Jane Still is away colleagues have been given temporary promotions to cover her work - but the advantages outweigh that.
"I think for the first time I really understand what is meant by schools being more like businesses," he says. "Usually people are talking about getting the money right, but we have learnt it is constantly looking for improvements, how to do things better and setting targets."
* HEADS SECONDED TO INDUSTRY
Academic yearNumber seconded:
1997-9817 (expected to rise to 80 by end of 1998-99)