Chill winds threaten work link

13th June 1997 at 01:00
A cash crisis is threatening to curtail the activities of the Teacher Placement Service which put 40,000 into industry last year.Harvey McGavin reports.

A SCHEME to organise placements for teachers in industry is facing a funding battle to preserve a service that has given nearly a quarter of a million classroom staff experience of the world of work. The Teacher Placement Service is part of the Confederation of British industry's education arm, Understanding British Industry. It faces closure unless its Pounds 2 million annual grant from the Government's single regeneration budget is renewed next March.

Janice Anderson, UBI's national network services director, says: "If it runs out then the number of teachers who have this kind of experience will diminish. It will not disappear because I am sure that local education business partnerships will want to continue to offer placements to teachers, but it will diminish significantly."

The service typically involves a week's placement for a teacher, producing practical curriculum material and forging links with local businesses. "Placements offer teachers the opportunity for professional development within a business context: they are not simply ends in themselves or a chance for teachers to stroll around a business," says Janice Anderson. "They are carefully structured and prepared to ensure that teachers are able to gain an insight into modern British business and to develop the curriculum so that it contains real life examples of business."

Award-winners among 40,000 placements over the last year have resulted in: a simulated car production line and robotics project for primary school pupils following their teacher's placement at Peugeot's Coventry plant; a key stage 3 plastics design component for design and technology pupils in Wolverhampton; software for GCSE and A-level science based on the materials testing area of British Aerospace's Bristol plant.

One of the scheme's most eye-catching achievements has been the construction of an alternative energy project at Cardinal Hinsley School in Harlesden, north-west London, which was named teacher placement of the year.

The school's head of science, George Nagle, set the project in motion after a placement at a Bedfordshire generator making firm, LVM. The school is now in the process of converting a building site cabin into a "green" classroom, powered by wind generators and solar panels.

Mr Nagle has begged small grants and equipment for the classroom which should be finished later this year. "We get dribbles of money, use it up and then we have to wait. But if it takes another six months I'm quite content," he says. "Here schools and industry are getting together as equals not driven by an urge to make profit. The motive is simple: to educate the children and make them more ecologically aware."

His pupils have visited LVM's factory and he is hoping to organise a work-shadowing exercise later this term. "LVM has been very supportive but the relationship has to be nurtured."

Such shining examples of joint ventures between schools and business benefit both parties. But, according to a consortium of business chiefs, the best efforts of UBI fall short of the level of co-operation needed to prepare young people for work and to promote mutual understanding.

Dick Whitcutt, director of Industry in Education, acknowledges the success of UBI, but says more needs to be done. "It works out that every teacher only gets one week in industry every 10 years. Our member companies report that very often they offer attachments or placements, but it ends up that the teachers cannot do it because the school wants money to replace the teacher in the classroom. There is a major problem in that businesses do not understand how difficult it is to release people from teaching. " A recent report from Industry in Education said contacts between industry and schools were "pitifully small compared with practices in Europe", particularly in the Netherlands where, under dual-job arrangements, teachers spend half their time in industry. The report recommends twinning, reciprocal arrangements whereby parts of the national curriculum could be delivered by industrial volunteers, freeing up teachers to spend time in business.

"There are precious little links in the national curriculum to the real world of work," says Dick Whitcutt. "There is a tacit assumption in schools that it is exam passes and paper qualifications that employers are interested in. But given that they are adequate, employers will always give the edge to people with hands-on experience and communication skills."

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