The Atlantic treaty is sealed

6th November 1998 at 00:00
Judy Mackie reports on a contract between school and business managers in Aberdeen

On the same day Israeli and Palestinian leaders put pen to paper in the first stage of their historic peace agreement, two parties representing business and education committed their signatures to posterity in the assembly hall of an Aberdeen secondary school.

Unlike the Middle Eastern process, the negotiations leading to this particular ceremony have been painless, even enjoyable. The signing celebrates the beginning of a special relationship between the UK oil and gas company Atlantic Power and the staff and pupils of Kincorth Academy.

The Atlantic Power chairman, John Milligan, and headteacher Mike Stuart introduce their new initiative with enthusiasm, aware that they, too, are breaking new ground. For the first time in Grampian, a business and a school have formed a formal, long-term partnership which reaches far beyond traditional business-education links.

The partnership was brokered by Isobel Maughan, manager of the Grampian Education Business Partnership, who says: "The EBP is committed to projects which help raise the standards of achievement of young people in school, and we've been delighted to support the many diverse business-education projects developed in Grampian. But in some cases there has been a problem sustaining the initiatives over time - the links have tended to involve particular individuals within companies, who may have had to bow out due to additional workload, or a change of career.

"The new partnership programme between Atlantic Power and Kincorth Academy will be jointly run at a senior management level and operational across the entire spectrum of staff and pupils, to have the maximum impact on the youngsters and staff from both organisations in terms of personal and career development. "

The programme has been developed as a three-year plan, with clear targets. The 12 objectives for year one include:

* the nomination of a member of Atlantic Power staff to act as a link for the Achievers International programme, providing students with access to business advice and support for AberdeenAmerican school twinning; * opportunities for pupil placements within Atlantic Power; * CV advice and interview practice for school-leavers during the second term; * development of a joint intranet site; * refurbishment of the school weather station; and * resurfacing of the school football pitch.

Atlantic Power has set the wheels in motion by donating a number of its surplus computers to support the school's information technology development.

The plan also includes opportunities for teaching staff to participate in Atlantic Power training courses, such as leadership skills, risk management and IT skills. In turn, Atlantic Power staff could shadow teachers or members of the school senior management team, to gain a better understanding of education.

Brainstorming meetings during the six-month planning period were well attended by senior management, staff and senior student volunteers. During one three-hour session, no fewer than 62 ideas for working together were thrown into the pot. To ensure the project stays on course, it will be closely monitored.

John Milligan is well-known in the area as a successful entrepreneur who worked his way out of an under-privileged background. He is frank about why his company has decided to make such a commitment: "Being a successful company is not just about making profits. It's about getting involved in the community. We want to play a part in developing the future of young people in our community, and there are many ways we can help.

"As a company, we have a range of resources which the school does not have access to, which we can bring into play immediately. Operating in the business world, we're used to making quick delivery and quick progress. And if we can't do it ourselves, we may know someone else who can help."

Mike Stuart is equally forthright: "We will value all the feedback we can get from Atlantic Power. One of the issues that repeatedly comes up in education is, what is effective communication? We have discussed bringing in a team from the company to look at communication systems within the secondary school, so that we can evaluate our own performance and go forward.

"We're also looking at opening a dialogue on the value of the curriculum we deliver, asking if we are putting emphasis on the kind of skills valued by industry. That may well influence the direction we are going in as a school. "

The risks in forming such a partnership have been carefully considered. "At all times, Mike, as the headteacher, is in the driving seat," says John Milligan. "We mustn't interfere with his responsibility to his staff and pupils." Both chairman and headteacher refuse to divulge how much financial support will be provided by Atlantic Power. They stress that the partnership is not about money.

According to Mike Stuart, his school is not looking for a "quick fix" cash injection, but a relationship that will strengthen over time in a variety of ways that will enhance the development of all the school children to their full potential, and enable teaching and Atlantic Power staff to further their own personal and career skills.

"The most important thing," he says, "is that all our young people are given every opportunity to see beyond the immediate confines of the school; that we are part of a community, and that we all work together as a community."

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