Dorothy Lepkowska reports on a scheme which helps pupils develop the personal skills that will win over employers. The prospect of addressing an international audience of 100 delegates might be daunting to the most eloquent of speakers. If 13-year-olds Christine Spencer and Tim Threadgold found it nerve-wracking, they certainly didn't show it.
The reason for their self-confidence, it seems, is that for the past year the pupils from Coppenhall High School in Crewe have been taking part in the Personal Effectiveness Programme Initiative - a scheme encouraging the development of social and personal skills in the classroom, alongside academic learning.
Pupils and teachers from 15 schools in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Norway met in London last month to discuss the impact PEPI had made on their schoolwork and personal lives.
The scheme's introduction into an international arena is relatively recent and still in its developmental stages. Its foundations were laid four years ago in a handful of Cheshire schools. The early work was prompted by the Wellcome Foundation's study of the graduates it recruited which revealed that while new employees were often highly qualified, they tended to lack essential workplace skills such as time management, punctuality, presentation, self-awareness, working in a team and problem-solving.
The Wellcome Foundation is now sponsoring the scheme and about 100 British schools are involved. In Europe, the project is being co-ordinated with the help of the European Secondary Heads' Association.
Christine and Tim are among the fourth intake of pupils at their school to join PEPI. They claim it has given them confidence, made them more organised in the way they spend their time at school and at home, and raised their aspirations.
Janet Smith, the full-time co-ordinator of PEPI at Coppenhall High, said: "It is a case of providing children with the vital skills demanded by employers. It turned out these were the same skills they needed to do well in the classroom and the results are beginning to show.
"Our examination results are getting better, and we have noticed that more of our students are going on to higher education. We believe the scheme has raised their self-awareness and self-esteem."
At Coppenhall, teachers concentrate on a particular skill every half term. Initially pupils discuss with staff what is expected of them and targets are set about the standards they are expected to achieve. As they progress through the school these are recorded and evaluated and pupils are presented with certificates in recognition of their achievements.
PEPI has also led to increased links between businesses and schools. Companies have been keen to send employees into schools to discuss with pupils the needs and demands of particular jobs.
At Parliament Hill School in Highgate, north London, organisational skills were the first target tackled by pupils. To help them focus on their priorities, their various homework books and notebooks were replaced with a single folder, divided into relevant sections, was issued to pupils.
Pupils Iona Goldstein and Kelly Humphries, both aged 14, who recently took advantage of the Take Your Daughters to Work Day to gain some work experience, believe the scheme has given them a valuable insight.
Iona said: "I suppose the skills taught under the PEPI scheme are obvious, but somehow it has helped to be told and reminded by teachers that our work has to be in order and handed in on time. We pay more attention to what we are supposed to be doing and are forced to organise our own time to make sure we get it right."
Back at the London conference, pupils from overseas were focusing on other skills. A group of 17-year-old Italian students of tourism said they had concentrated on presentation and the importance of first impressions.
German students had discussed candidly their perceptions of each other and analysed how other people saw them, to increase their awareness of their personal strengths and shortcomings.
Nick Michell, a human resources manager at the Wellcome Foundation, told the students his company was learning at first hand of the importance of employees' individual skills in the workplace.
Following a merger with the pharmaceutical firm, Glaxo, managers are now considering staff rationalisation and job losses are expected.
He told the pupils: "The mechanism for making the selection between who goes and who stays in a job here is largely skills-related.
"The management is considering making these decisions based on effectiveness and scoring people against each other on what they can offer to the company.
"There can be no better way of demonstrating how important these qualities are to an employer."
Schools wishing to take part in the PEPI scheme should contact Gordon Bell, PEPI Programme Development and Management, on 01244-300820.