Beauty of hands-on lessons

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Sending children to college is not the only way to deliver Skills for Work courses. Instead the college can come to the pupils.

It is a model that John Fyffe, headteacher of Blairgowrie High in Perth and Kinross, one of the first schools of ambition, favours.

"If I'm paying bus companies to transport my kids to college, that's thousands of pounds disappearing every year and doing nothing to build capacity in my school. It's also getting kids used to leaving the district, when we want them to stay.

"So I now have colleges bidding to provide outreach facilities to deliver vocational courses at my school."

It is an approach also preferred by education authorities.

Equipping North Lanarkshire secondary schools with call centres, construction workshops and beauty salons has not been cheap, says quality improvement officer Stephen Moore. "But it has been worthwhile.

"We've been running vocational courses for years and have tried sending kids to college. We feel this is more practical and a better use of funding.

"We are now talking about joint training for experienced teachers and college lecturers. The lecturers will learn how to work with children and the teachers will gain some of the practical skills."

It is an opportunity welcomed by some teachers at St Aidan's High in Wishaw, says the headteacher, Rosemary McDonald. "We've been equipped for construction and hair and beauty for two years now, with lecturers coming out from Motherwell College to take the classes."

In a smallish room in the technical department, five girls in beds are showing only their faces, which have been liberally smeared with a greenish mask by S4 friends in smart, white uniforms. This is beauty and hairdressing and is every bit as relaxing as it looks, says one teenager.

Motherwell College lecturer Gillian MacDonald says she enjoys coming out to schools. "They've all got their own wee salons like this.

"I don't see a lot of difference in behaviour between these girls and older ones in college. They're all on the course because they want to be, which helps."

The well-equipped school salon means colleges might not offer anything better, says Natalie Mearns. "I like being in school, where my friends are.

You would waste a lot of time waiting for buses if you were going to college."

The salon, while very much part of the school, is a distinct environment, says the depute headteacher, James Welsh. "There is a maturity and seriousness about the girls when they're in here. The uniforms, which they designed themselves, contribute to that."

Along the corridor, an S4 construction class under Motherwell College lecturer Jim Paton is creating rampant red lions on blue backgrounds.

"I don't mind where I teach or if I'm teaching 14-year-olds or young adults," says Mr Paton.

"Courses like this are badly needed, because they encourage kids into construction and central Scotland alone is 6,500 apprentices short."

One benefit of the courses is the fact that pupils can, and invariably do, use their newly-acquired professional skills on friends and families, says Mr Welsh. "The girls practise on mums and sisters, while the boys doing construction help with jobs around the house.

"Incidentally, boys could do beauty and girls construction, but it hasn't happened yet."

One other benefit has become evident, says Mr Welsh. "Their behaviour often improves elsewhere in the school."

Long-established links between Motherwell College and St Aidan's High mean that having college lecturers delivering vocational classes in the school was not such a big step, says Ms McDonald: "It was more a natural evolution. There would be more to think about for a school that was starting from scratch, but it would still be worth doing.

"This sort of partnership between schools and colleges is here to stay."

School pupils now account for 10 per cent of Motherwell College students, says the assistant director, Alison Davie.

"We have partnership agreements with schools and authorities and keeping all those partners satisfied is a big job.

"Teachers in North Lanarkshire schools are now showing an interest in teaching parts of these courses themselves, and that may be the way to cope with the increasing demand. Skills for Work is an expanding area."

The course programme is essentially the same whether the students are in school or at college, says Danny Shearer, the curriculum head of construction. "Lecturers, working environment, tools, course content, ideas and approaches are no different.

"Lecturers need to be aware of the differences between younger kids and those they usually teach, and we emphasise health and safety and good working practices during induction and throughout the course," he says.

The pupils gain valuable skills and learn what they like and, as important, what they don't like.

"I left school, just turned 15, on a Friday and started on a building site on the Monday. I'd have loved the chance to learn what it was all about beforehand, the way these kids are," he says.

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