Hollywood comes to job placement
Year 10 pupils at a Welsh secondary became A-list celebrities last week at an awards ceremony that had nothing to do with academic achievement.
Twenty-one replica Oscars were presented to pupils from Monmouth comprehensive school at a red carpet event focused on work-related education (WRE).
All had received glowing references from employers after completing work placements of a fortnight's duration in April.
Edwin Towill, learning pathways and work experience co-ordinator, came up with the idea of an awards ceremony based on work experience success, a first for the school. He even dressed in a dinner suit to host the event in the school's sports hall.
But it is not known if there was an Oscar-style limit on how long the acceptance speeches could be.
He said that since his employment in the key role, he has worked to ensure that WRE is no longer a box-ticking exercise at the end of a school year. "Work experience used to be something that pupils did at the end of the school year before they went off on their summer holiday," he said. "There was never much preparation.
"We have turned that around by making pupils go out on their placement at the end of April and making sure they prepare six months in advance."
The 2004 Chapman Report, the first document on the 14-19 learning pathways initiative launched in April, had recommended compulsory WRE for all 14 to 19 year-olds in Wales from September that year. Pupils would have to complete a minimum of three weeks' work experience, with one of those at key stage 4.
"The most important premise at the school is that pupils prepare six months ahead of their work placement," said Mr Towill.
"We expect 80 per cent of our pupils to find their own work placements and make their own arrangements.
"The other 20 per cent are helped, whether it be by myself, Careers Wales or another member of staff."
The school ensures plenty of career fairs are held early in the school year so that pupils make their work-related experience choices based on their own research. The approach is supposed to toughen them up for the real world, making them more resourceful and resilient.
Their efforts were rewarded at the ceremony, which was designed to be entertaining and above all, according to Mr Towill, fun.
The categories ranged from "most determined work experience student" to "most courteous and polite student on work experience.
Winners were accompanied along the flower-fringed red carpet to the stage by the playing of chart-topping hits from artists such as the Beatles, Ben E King and Dolly Parton. One member of the audience claimed it was "right because it was cheesy".
Gushing comments from employers who had good things to say were flashed on a big screen.
The school's dance troupe performed rock and roll for pupils, parents and employers that took on a distinctly American feel.
Annarstarzia Dickenson, 15, won the "best placement in the legal services" award after work experience with Agincourt Legal, She was handed her trophy as Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate Good Times" played from loudspeakers.
"I learned a lot about employment and business law," she said. "I think law is definitely an option but if I was asked what branch, it would probably be family law."
Pupils who did not win an actual award were presented with a certificate, so everyone could go away feeling included with some sense of achievement. One award nominee was 15-year-old Caroline Hagg, a linguist in the making, who did her work experience with a company in the South of France.
"Not only did I have to get to grips with answering the phones and the computer systems, but I had to do it all in French," she said.
In all, 340 work placements were found for pupils at private and publicly funded businesses over the year, with the school claiming local employer resistance was not an issue.
Companies such as Timpsons, which supplied the replica trophies, helped to sponsor the event.