Olympic Salad, Midnight Feast and Sweet Chilli Chicken were just some of the products from a partnership between a food manufacturer and first-year pupils at Bo'ness Academy. The 12-week challenge was featured at a financial education conference, run by Enterprising Careers at Strathclyde University last week.
Caledonian Produce is based in Bo'ness and is the main food producer for Marks Spencer in Scotland. Having worked with primary schools for 10 years, it was eager to expand into secondary schools. "Following a successful food challenge as part of a P7 transition project, we were keen to try something more in-depth with the S1 pupils," says depute head Isabelle Jean-Pierre.
The brief was to design a side salad to appeal to MS's younger customers, which had to include healthy ingredients and be as fresh as possible. If it was marketable, the shop promised to put it on its shelves. "They had to agree a price," says Mme Jean-Pierre. "In art and design, they had to think of a concept and design a label. In business management, they worked on presenting, pitching, costing and marketing, providing an analysis of the market segment, and detailing how much each raw material costs.
"In PSE, they worked in teams where each member had a specific role - managing director; marketing manager; development manager; finance and resource manager; HR manager. Caledonian Produce staff conducted the interviews, ensuring each candidate was clear about what each role entailed.
A two-day grand finale was planned for the end of January, with each team assessed by a panel of judges from the authority and Caledonian Produce. Each department was asked to come up with assessment criteria and pupils had to make a five to eight-minute business presentation to the headteacher, manufacturing manager and HR manager. In the afternoon, they displayed their work, allowing the food to be tasted.
The two best groups from each day were selected and four finalists invited to give a presentation to MS officials from London.
"The focus retained throughout was amazing," says Mme Jean-Pierre. "I can't believe how much peer support there was - some from parents, some from teachers, but mostly from other pupils. They helped each other in a natural, organic way. One of the judges said that he would never have known it was first-year students, and it was scary how good they were."
But Mme Jean-Pierre is also full of praise for Caledonian Produce. "They attended the project meetings every two weeks, gave advice on what was practical, their designer spoke to us on how to convey a concept, and they interviewed pupils."
The pupils now have an increased awareness of local jobs and opportunities which, the school says, has resulted in fifth and sixth years being more ambitious than the previous operator jobs they tended to apply for with the company.
It also set learning within a real-life context, enabling them to understand the relevance of different subject areas, and to transfer skills in an integrated approach.
For the staff, it was also a huge learning experience. "We now realise that some departments should have come in later, which would have helped avoid some of the pressure," she recalls. "For example, home economics needed the ingredients list for art and design, but did not have it at the start, and business studies needed prices but had to wait. Who comes in when was key.
"It was a very positive experience and we must not underestimate the challenges involved. We realised that we need to be more flexible with resources, with timetables, and with staff. We had to resign ourselves to the fact that not everyone involved could attend every meeting. Our school would not be flexible for more than one project like this at a time. It is a fantastic way of implementing A Curriculum for Excellence, but very demanding."
Meanwhile, Caledonian's HR manager, Debra Nichol Storie, has been given the Determined to Succeed Director Award for Developing Young People, and the winning product - Sweet Chilli Chicken - should be on the shelves from May.