A college in Cornwall is encouraging its pupils to broaden their horizons when it comes to work placements, writes Martin Whittaker
Lyn Trewella had a frustrating time trying to organise her Year 12 work placement. Interested in photography, she wrote to every photographic studio she could find in Cornwall, but with no success.
When Treviglas Community College encouraged her to broaden her horizons, she got on the Internet and fixed up two weeks on a ranch in Wyoming, USA.
One year on, Lyn, 18, has finished her A-levels in photography, art and biology. Besides yielding some great photographs, she says the fortnight gave her a solid grounding in life skills. "You travel on your own for the most part, and it's a big experience," she says. "It makes you a more confident and sorted person. It's a good thing to do."
Lyn wasn't the only one in her year to spread wings in search of work experience. Fellow pupils Luke Steward and Stuart Ross worked at an environmental project on the island of Dominica in the West Indies; two others went to a kindergarten in Aurich, Germany, and another to a game park in Botswana.
Over the past five years, teachers at Treviglas have worked hard to encourage international placements for Year 12 pupils. The 960-pupil comprehensive is on the outskirts of Newquay, a Cornish resort famous for its surfing beaches. But its gentle pace of life can also be insular.
"A lot of our students decide they would like to stay here," says deputy head Helen Matheson. "You can't blame them - it's a very pleasant place. But that decision I believe is based on the fact that they haven't been anywhere else. This programme allows them to find a pathway out."
The local economy is chiefly dependent on tourism and a struggling agricultural sector. Five years ago, the school began looking outside Cornwall for more demanding work experience placements. Malcolm Broad, Treviglas's head of sixth form who runs the scheme, also runs the county under-13 cricket team and has a wealth of cricket contacts throughout the UK and abroad.
Through these contacts he found placements with a postgraduate research team at St Bartholomew's hospital, London, and at the Natural History Museum. "We found that the pupils came back with completely changed personalities - better focused, much keener, much more enthusiastic," he says.
Encouraged, he pushed the boundaries further into Europe, helping students gain placements at Nato headquarters in Brusses. As the programme developed, students have cast their nets ever wider. This year, Year 12s spent their fortnight in June in such far-flung places as Guyana, Barbados and Johannesburg. Next week, three students will fly out to work at a hospital in Cape Town until September 4.
"It gives you confidence," says Shane Farrelly, one of a group who helped at a school in Guyana. "I wouldn't normally speak in front of a big group of people, but over there I found I could do it. And we went all that way on our own - you know that if you wanted to travel again, you could manage it."
Those who didn't go abroad this year still found placements beyond the River Tamar. Tiffani Staff, 17, who aims to go into fashion design, spent her fortnight as a photographer's assistant at the Zandra Rhodes Fashion House in London. "It was brilliant. I loved it," she says. "I'm going back in the summer holidays to help set up a new museum of fashion."
Students have to organise their own travel and accommodation, the school helping where possible. Pupils also have to fund most of the trip as they receive only a small contribution from the school. This can be a challenge - the Guyana trip cost pound;600. Malcolm Broad admits that some parents foot the bill, but students are encouraged to finds way of earning the money.
And what of safety while they're abroad? What if the students find themselves in danger or exploited while thousands of miles from home? Johannesburg, with its reputation for violent crime, is a long way from rural Cornwall. "As long as parents know exactly where they're going, that they're going to meet adults who we know or that there's adult support available, it's an adventure," says Malcolm Broad. "There's a risk as with any activity like this, but it's a risk well worth taking." The school takes care to involve parents at every step and work experience placements are rigorously checked.
Helen Matheson believes the whole school benefits from the international work placement scheme. As well as giving sixth-formers something unusual to write on their Ucas statements, it has also created an expectation among the lower years. It also won praise from Ofsted in a recent inspection.
"We have succeeded in making this a tradition and a rite of passage in our sixth form - that you are here to succeed," says Helen Matheson. "Our Year 11s know there's a work experience programme and they're very excited. Word of mouth tells them how wonderful it's been."