Day for change

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Next Thursday is Take our Daughters to Work Day. Isobel Durrant explains why students - and their schools - should get involved

Take our Daughters to Work Day, the annual event that aims to open girls' eyes to the practicalities of working life and the whole gamut of possibilities ahead when they quit the classroom, celebrates its tenth anniversary on March 18.

Once unlikely to study some areas of the curriculum, girls now have access to all subjects and in recent years have consistently outperformed boys in exams. However, this academic success has not translated into similarly wide careers or superior earnings. Women earn an average of pound;500 per month less than their male equivalents, and, although girls are approaching 50 per cent of the workforce, the Equal Opportunities Commission has identified that an astonishing 90 per cent of the female workforce is found in just five job areas: administration and secretarial; personal services; sales; non-skilled manual work; and associate professional and technical jobs such as nursing.

Girlguiding UK (formerly the Guides), the event organisers for the past three years, is keen to encourage schools to participate but timetable pressures mean teachers need to know how it can serve the curriculum.

Beyond the obvious links to work related learning, Girlguiding UK has identified areas of the speaking and listening attainment targets in English and PSHE that could be met by students taking part, and has suggestions for how teachers might prepare students. These can be found on their website (see end) under "Linking the scheme to the national curriculum".

The Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, east London, has taken part in the scheme since it began. Headteacher Marlene Robottom believes it gives the girls a valuable insight into the world of work: "It's their first taste of stepping into the adult world. A high percentage of our girls are Muslim. They don't tend to have Saturday jobs so the activities the school provides are very important. They take part in a range of practical, work-related activities."

Girls enjoy placements with companies in the nearby City and at Canary Wharf arranged through Tower Hamlets Education Business Partners. The scheme lends itself to the completion of real tasks that support the curriculum. For example, in order to take part, girls must first complete application forms. They practise communication and ICT skills, interviewing their hosts who give advice. Claire O'Brien of law firm Clifford Chance told students: "Don't be too concerned about changing your career choices over time. Nothing is fixed and opportunities always exist if you are willing to look."

Feedback is universally positive, with students emphasising how much they enjoy the day. Last year Nilima, Yasmin and Fathiha spent the day at the Bank of America. "We had a really enjoyable and wonderful time," they enthuse. "We liked the new experience and learned a lot from the visit."

At the Godolphin School in Salisbury, Wiltshire, a girls' independent boarding school, girls take part in the day in Year 10. Although organised through the careers department, it is also used to support GCSE English.

Careers teacher Victoria Griffith says:. "The girls interview the people they workshadow. We give them a pack with ideas for questions that will help them to understand the personal qualities, training and educational qualifications needed for the job, as well as how it might develop in the future. They produce a written project and give oral feedback in their English lessons. This way each girl can imagine all the options her peers have undertaken. It works well because it's real and meaningful."

Victoria Griffith and her colleague Nick Eggleton believe the day creates "an awareness of the opportunities available to women, and shows a whole spectrum of jobs from office junior to managing director they wouldn't get the opportunity to see on work experience where they would be tied to one person and place." Certainly the spectrum is pretty wide with one girl last year spending the day on a submarine and another at a nuclear power station.

In Tower Hamlets and some other boroughs where unemployment among young men is very high, the scheme has been extended to boys and is now called Take our Children to Work. Girlguiding UK however, believes it is important that it remains single sex, and that girls need the opportunity to gain these experiences without the presence of boys. Victoria Griffith and Nick Eggleton support this stance: "It's still a man's world. Women still experience discrimination at work."

Girlguiding UK has pages specifically for schools who want to participate, with suggestions for preparation and follow up activities as well as background information on the scheme and advice on how to plan for it, on their website

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