Gerald Haigh on how a Kettering school's head of business studies has built up an impressive range of links with industry.
Visit Henry Gotch School, Kettering, and you are almost bound to meet up with Christine Blowman, head of business studies. She is, after all, involved in marketing the school, a job which she tucks into a multi-faceted portfolio which also includes, as well as teaching her subject and leading her department, running the school's impressive, extensive programme of links with business and industry.
She works assiduously at her contacts, and the school has above-average success in setting up projects with local firms. "My database of company contacts exceeds 150 local firms which regularly assist us and I can call upon." Thus, teachers who want some help from industry with a curriculum project are rarely disappointed - "I can arrange a visit usually within a week."
In addition the school gains to the tune of thousands of pounds- worth of sponsorship - prizes for a for a road-safety competition, for example, included a bike, cycle helmets and a range of other products. For the climax of the year she runs an Enterprise Week, which involves 120 Year 10 pupils placed with 60 local companies, and the Week's final exhibition is hosted by a local hotel which gives up lots of Friday and Saturday bookings for the purpose. So what is the key to Christine Blowman's success?
The fact that she exists at all - that the senior management team have seen the need for a key member of staff to run school-industry links - is a good part of it. Schools which delegate the task either to an inexperienced colleague or to an already overworked deputy head may well find that they are simply not putting in the required effort. Most firms are well disposed to education these days, but schools have to put real resources into reaching out to them.
Christine Blowman believes, for example, that you cannot effectively deal with a new contact by telephone. "If it's somebody new, I go and see them. It's easier to talk face to face. And you must appear enthusiastic and well prepared, knowing exactly what it is you want. And then I always have in mind what we can offer to do for them, which is usually publicity."
"Publicity" in this case may mean distributing flyers in the community, or running a feature in the school's half-termly newsletter which, in quality of production and breadth of circulation has almost the status of a local newspaper.
This kind of legwork in the industrial community takes time, and although in recent months Christine has had timetable space for developing links, by far the biggest part of the work has been done out of school hours. "Nearly every day in the Easter holidays I was visiting a company to see about something to do with school."
Time, commitment, and the support of colleagues and senior management, then are all important. For Christine, though, the extra factor is that she herself worked for a long time in business before, 10 years ago, she went to what was then Huddersfield Poly to qualify as a teacher. She gives the impression of being entirely confident with the world outside education, which must come across to the people she deals with in the Kettering business community. There are practicalities, too - she speaks the language of business, and has inside knowledge, such as who to talk to when you want something.
And in the end, just as a teacher who goes off to do something else is always a teacher at heart and in manner, so Christine still has business in her blood. "I think I can say that I wouldn't still be in teaching if I was just a teacher because I'm not the sort of person who could do one job and be fulfilled. I like going out visiting, negotiating, recruiting new people to support us."