Building a future

8th June 2007 at 01:00
A Falkirk school and a construction company are working on an innovative project linking design and technology, business education, art and geography. The aim is to give pupils an idea of the variety of careers on offer within the sector

HAVING TO be lifted out of mud by a fireman might not seem the sort of experience to make Standard grade craft and design more attractive. But for S3 pupils at Graeme High in Falkirk, it was just one of the delights of a site visit to a construction company specialising in houses.

Even better was seeing Hugh Reid, their design and technology teacher, bogged down in muck.

Over the past year, Graeme High has been building bridges between the classroom and workplace by linking up with CALA Homes. During that time, the foundations of an award-winning partnership have been laid across four departments and five subjects to ensure the academic experience has a strong element of the practical.

The link was first set up by the local authority, which approached the company, which was ready to listen. "We were keen to work with a school, having been involved in various events, such as pupils shadowing an architect for a day. Building more of a partnership was on our agenda,"

says Patricia Profili, area land manager and liaison between the company and the school.

"We were particularly keen to work with Graeme High because it is five minutes across the road from our offices. We also have a large development, building 1,500 houses over the next 10 years, up the road. It means it is easy for the pupils to come along to see work in progress."

CALA is candid about its decision to participate in education. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the construction industry to recruit good-quality youngsters, and to make them and their teachers understand the wide variety of careers on offer within the sector.

"I am sure many of the pupils will be surprised at the range of employment opportunities available and hope it will inspire them to think about a career in the development or construction industries, and especially house building," says David Gill, managing director of CALA Homes West.

The school embraced the opportunity readily, recognising a unique chance to enliven the classroom experience by injecting it with some real-life activities. Suzanne Donaghy, business education teacher, was the first to lead but, after her promotion to principal teacher of guidance, it fell to Charlene McIntosh, design and technology teacher, to nurture the link.

"It is an 18-month project aimed at giving pupils insight into the house building sector," explains Mrs McIntosh. "We decided it would be best to formalise the partnership over four departments: design and technology, business education, art and geography."

The first step was to set up a sponsored noticeboard in the design and technology department corridor, which experiences high levels of traffic with its own students and others who pass through the department to get to maths. It is the ideal place for the department's teachers to pin information relating to the ongoing building projects, and photos from the latest field trip, including one of Mr Reid stuck in the mud.

The board is also home to Employee of the Month CVs provided by the house builder, which feature a different employee - from carpenter to managing director - every four weeks, detailing the individual's qualifications, employee background and progression through the company. It gives pupils an opportunity to see what jobs exist within a large building company.

The company has also raised its profile at the school by stepping forward to sponsor the prom (a popular move among the senior pupils) and the prize-giving. It has plans to upgrade the school's central quadrangle.

But the main, and most important, element of the relationship has been with the four departments, so that the pupils can experience what it is like to work for a real employer. "This partnership has been good for us, because we've witnessed first-hand how knowledgeable the teachers are about the design process," says Mrs Profili.

It has also been good for the teachers. "It makes it real, and takes you away from the classroom," says Mrs McIntosh. "It is demanding in terms of staffing - there has to be a ratio of one teacher to five pupils because of health and safety, but we have managed to cover it OK."

For the pupils, it has also been realistic experience. Part of the S3 graphic communications course included designing a floor-plan of a show house and brochure to promote it. The students had to work to a brief developed by CALA, who then assessed the designs, giving each student useful feedback on their work.

"The architects told us what their job was," one of the pupils said. "We got tips on how to make their brochure better and what was good about it.

It was interesting."

The company was involved in judging the best designs. As part of the project, the pupils visited show houses on a site which is so large it has houses at every stage of the building process.

"We had the craft and design pupils come to the site for one project, where they followed a joiner through the different stages of building a house, from the beginning structural work to the finishing touches with the skirting board," says Mrs Profili.

Other projects include art students, possibly from across the school, who are to design art for the walls and sculptures for the show houses, and an S4 project next term will involve DT students designing an artefact as part of their Standard grade.

"It will either be an umbrella stand or a shoe rack, working to a brief. We are hoping that the best one, chosen by the building firm, will be displayed in our show home," says Mrs McIntosh.

It means another visit to get an idea of what sort of object would fit.

"It's cool. It gives you an idea of what to make," said an S3 pupil. "We are going to the show house to see what the other furniture is like and where the model will go."

Senior geography students have been on visits to investigate land issues to do with house building. They were able to watch soil testing being carried out, and listened to talks on other issues, such as energy conservation and community consultations.

The business education students are being offered work placement opportunities and greater insight into different departments, including human resources and marketing.

The company also took its skilled workmen into the school for a World of Work day. Bricklayers through to architects were available to talk to students about the different aspects of their work and the students obviously enjoyed the break from their timetable.

"It was good. Not bad wages for painting or bricklaying. We found out how long we had to go to college until we qualified," one said. "The joiner was the 'soundest'. He told us his job is like putting a jigsaw together."

"We were really impressed by how many students were interested in architecture when we held the world of work day," said Mrs Profili. "And it set us thinking about where to go next."

One of the company's architectural technicians has recently won a promotion to architectural manager, leaving a space open for a new trainee. So the company has decided to work with Graeme High to look at recruiting. The com-pany's human resources department is putting to-gether a brief for the job, which includes day release each week to go for qualifying training at college.

In its short existence, the partnership has attracted considerable attention. Mrs McIntosh was asked by the Scottish Executive's Determined to Succeed team to take a selection of students to a conference for technical education lecturers in Glasgow last March, where she gave a half-hour talk on the partnership.

Graeme High and CALA also won an award from Careers Scotland for the best scheme for developing career planning skills. After the summer holidays, the two will continue to work together for another term. However, both are keen to continue the partnership.

The school recognises that it has been given a unique opportunity to expand the experiences of its pupils, while the company has been energised by the input of enthusiastic and inquisi-tive young people, some of whom it is keen to harness.

The project, whether it continues or not, has had a positive impact, boosting the motivation of students, helping CALA in its recruitment and - by exposing some teachers to the vagaries of the mud - ensuring fewer are stuck in the classroom, teaching the same thing year after year.


Graphic communication S3: designing a floor plan and brochure for a show home

Craft designenterprise through craft S3: site visit to see house building through its different stages, from foundation laying to finished product

Craft design S4 (next session): to design artefact for final project, which will be either an umbrella stand or shoe rack for a show home. Will work to specific brief and be judged by CALA, with aim that winning product will be used in a show home

Geography S456: site visit to consider land issues involved in buying land and building homes on it, including environmental issues, energy saving and consultations with local community

Business education S56: business management projects, such as marketing, human resources. Also expecting work placements to follow next session

Art department: potentially all year groups Students to design art work and sculptures to go in show homes

Work placements for senior school and S4

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