Bored? Take flight

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Professional development placements can improve a teacher's lot

Everyone knows that pupils can learn a lot from a stint in the workplace.

But what about their teachers?

Despite the fact that more people are now embarking on second careers in teaching, there are still plenty of staff with limited experience of the world of work outside the classroom. If you're one of them, a professional development placement (PDP), organised through an education business partnership (EBP), can give you an insight into how the other half work, help create links between school and local businesses, and add an extra dimension to your classroom practice.

What's more, most employers will welcome you with open arms, seeing it as an opportunity to promote their industry to the next generation of workers.

Sarah Woodhall, head of geography at Gateacre community comprehensive school in Liverpool, quite literally got to see what life is like on the other side of the fence when she spent a day at the Paradise Street redevelopment site, the largest city centre redevelopment project in Europe.

The placement, organised by Liverpool Compact EBP, involved an introduction to the project followed by a tour of the site, giving her the opportunity to meet the wide range of people working there and learn about their roles.

"The site visit was the most valuable to me as a geography teacher," she says. "It opened my eyes to what's involved in this kind of project and the range of jobs that are linked to my subject area. And we talked to a female civil engineer so, back at school, I was able to use this as an example of how gender stereotypes in the construction industry are breaking down.'

The experience helped regenerate the department's resources too. It was particularly useful for the A-level syllabus as this involves a unit on the redevelopment of city centres. "In geography, it's important to have current materials and the case study we were using before was a few years out of date," says Sarah. "We were able to develop an excellent new one."

Teacher placements can also open doors when it comes to organising visits for pupils and Sarah was able to take her class to view the site. "They knew there was some major building work going on behind the barriers," she says, "but seeing inside really captured their interest.

Two students have now expressed an interest in studying town planning at degree level. Ideally, I'd like the whole department to have gone because the direct experience is important - it's not the same when someone just brings back the materials."

Placements can also spark long-term collaborations between schools and workplaces. Nina Bernstein, a class teacher at Meare village primary school, in Somerset, first visited the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1998 on a placement organised by her local education business partnership. Almost eight years later, the link is still going strong and a number of exciting projects have arisen from it.

One involved her teaming up with a blind teacher to take pupils to a local nature reserve where they explored how the experience could be interpreted for the visually impaired. It culminated in the creation of a seating area specially designed for the blind. "One of the great things about the placements is that they enable you to make contact with people you wouldn't normally get to work with," says Nina.

The most recent project involved the pupils learning about sound and vision recording at the reserve and making "sonic postcards" which they later played at an exhibition of their work. "It has opened the door to them doing things they wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. And I'm learning alongside them."

It's opened up a whole new world for Nina. "I didn't have much interest in birds before. It's made me more aware of the local environment. I now visit the reserve with family and friends and my daughter did her Year 10 work experience with the warden there."

Nina feels she is lucky in that her head recognises the benefits to the whole school from the time she spends on the projects. As Sarah points out, it's important to make a strong case for your visit by choosing something that has direct relevance to the curriculum you are teaching and being clear about what you want to get out of it.

Jenny Asher, development manager for teacher placements at the national EBP network, says: "Teachers can organise their own placements but by using a broker such as an EBP they will have access to a far wider range of employer contacts and opportunities. PDP organisers also save time by making introductions, advising on the content of the programme, and ensuring objectives are met."

Unfortunately, there has recently been some reduction in funding for education business partnerships and this is beginning to have an impact on the types of placement available. In the past it was possible to undertake week-long placements, sometimes with bursaries attached, to help with the cost. However, this is rare, with most being limited to one day. Also, education business partnerships are now being asked to focus more on supporting teachers working with the 14-19 age group to tie in with the new requirements for work related learning at key stages 4 and 5.

The message is clear, particularly if you're in the primary sector: grab one of these opportunities while you can.

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