Make way for the movers and shakers

24th July 2009 at 01:00
Pupils from three award-winning schools are proving to be leaders in enterprise

Most enterprising primary

There are 900 pupils from nursery to P7 at Mearns Primary in East Renfrewshire - and every one does a different enterprising activity at each stage of their education.

Headteacher Ann Macbeth is a previous recipient of a Skene Enterprise Trust award, and her determination to foster enterprising approaches and a "can-do, will do" attitude in her pupils is clear.

While she has run mini-enterprise companies with pupils in the past, she sees enterprise education as having evolved - a quality recognised by the judges of the Scottish Education Awards who voted the school the most enterprising primary in Scotland. "It's about attitude - it's embedding a `can do' attitude. We're looking for distributed leadership, including among the pupils. It gives them confidence and transferable skills for life, particularly in these credit crunch days," she says.

"Children are encouraged to produce assemblies and talk to hundreds of people at a time, which is an important skill to grow up with".

The sheer quantity of enterprise activities at Mearns is almost breathtaking. Some elements are common to most schools, such as the pupil council and the eco-committee. But there is also the health fair, organised and run by pupils, and the playzone and peer mediators (winners of the Diana Award two years running) - initiatives designed to encourage good behaviour and socialisation in what must be the biggest primary playground in Scotland.

Extra-curricular activities include clubs for chess, podcasting and football, and pupils have entered a number of competitions, including "enterprise is the business" and a young writers' award.

Each year group has a specific enterprise activity. This year, P3, for instance, was involved with other local primaries, the nursery school and Mearns Castle High in a project to design and make costumes with a local artist on the theme of Scotland. They linked it to their topic of "the local area", which included a recycling element - so they created their own recycled costumes, using unwanted materials and litter.

P4's enterprise task was a backpack project: pupils donated their old school backpacks and filled them with materials, such as notebooks, pencils, flip-flops and T-shirts to send to children in countries such as Liberia, Uganda and Malawi. The awareness-raising element involves pupils in leading assemblies, holding an information evening for parents, and telling their local newspaper about their work.

P6's international enterprise venture includes a travelling teddy bear which visits Scotland, Oregon, Florida and Hong Kong, allowing pupils to write about the places he has seen and take photographs of him. Pupils across three continents communicate with their partner schools via a blog, with children posting polls and discussion forums.

To commemorate their final year, P7 pupils produce a yearbook capturing the best moments of their school career. They have produced a DVD to accompany it and are working on a separate one on transitions.

There is a strong emphasis on helping pupils develop an understanding of the world of work and self-employment. Strong links have been made with local businesses: P6-7 pupils were able, through the podcasting club, to visit BBC Scotland studios to create a podcast of their day and learn about the process of writing short interview outlines, practise radio interviewing techniques, do script-writing and add sound effects and music with their software.

Jennifer Leitch, one of the principal teachers, says: "We use enterprising approaches to improve learners' experiences as well as to address the challenges of under-achievement, curriculum innovation and inclusion. Our programmes are designed to encourage independence as well as collaborative working, creativity and enterprising skills."

Most enterprising secondary

From following a traditional curriculum based on academic subjects, James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock has shifted its focus to enterprise in education, personal development and leadership skills. The aim is to make pupils more motivated and to improve their preparedness for the world of work.

Part of the impetus for the shift came from the school's previously higher-than-average exclusion rate (it has dropped in recent years by two- thirds).

Janis Teale, the headteacher, says the school recognised that, in order to become more effective, it had to engage its pupils more. Attendance has improved significantly, as have staff-pupil relations: pupils now frequently organise school hospitality events and staff lunches which reflect their international studies.

At all stages, they are given opportunities to experience enterprise activities and develop entrepreneurial skills; once they reach S3-6, they are given access to the ASDAN certificate of personal effectiveness. The school has also designed its own "preparation for independence" course, in which pupils are given responsibility for making DVDs to welcome others to the school and are required to make items to sell to staff and other pupils.

Ms Teale believes the "preparation for independence" courses have made a real difference to demotivated S2 pupils. She hopes to gain accreditation for the courses on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

The academy is now one of the few schools in Scotland to offer a Higher in photography; as part of the course, pupils are encouraged to make and sell Christmas cards using their photographic work.

Pupils on its fashion and textiles courses now have access to the kind of equipment not available in most schools - such as an industrial overlocker for making garments, purchased with money from the Determined to Succeed fund, which they will be instructed on how to use by the Lochaven knitwear company.

It is one of the many local businesses which have formed close links with the school; indeed, every principal teacher is expected to make links with a business person. "This has changed what were good lessons into highly motivating ones, because of the links with the outside world," says Ms Teale.

The council's own environmental health and building services teams are among the employers giving their time to business education, accounting, administration, computing and home economics. Agreement has been reached with ScottishPower to reinforce the teaching of science and geography; National Air Traffic Control in Prestwick supports modern languages and maths; and Kilmarnock FC lends a hand to PE and home economics.

The head of a local accountancy firm, Ian Sim, helps teach business management classes in the business education departments. "He has got the pupils to do real projects, based on real-life accountancy which he takes away and marks - so it's not tokenism," says Ms Teale.

The culmination of the year was a fashion show, which was photographed by Higher photography students and supported by Lochaven Knitwear.

Most enterprising special school

A runner-up in last year's awards, Carrongrange School in Falkirk has stepped up a gear in its enterprise activities and was this year crowned the most enterprising special school in Scotland.

It is the only such school in the area for secondary-age pupils; their needs range from moderate to complex, and the pupil roll will rise from 134 to 150 at the start of the new term.

Headteacher Gillian Robertson acknowledges the challenges the school faces - the range of pupil needs, the limited number of positive post-school destinations, and the fact that even further education placements are usually part-time.

That is why she and her staff work so hard to prepare their pupils for the transition into adulthood.

One of the additions to Carrongrange's existing enterprise education work was the introduction of "enterprising Fridays".

It arose out of discussion around the capacities for A Curriculum for Excellence and the school's view that it wanted to add another capacity - independence. Mrs Robertson says: "Enterprising Fridays came about as a result of people thinking up various areas to which pupils should have access."

Two activities are full-day - outdoor education and working at Muiravonside Cafe social enterprise. The latter allows two groups of pupils, accompanied by staff from the school, to run the cafe on Wednesdays and Fridays. They are involved in the purchasing, preparation and serving of the food, giving a small group the experience of regular work in a supported environment.

Other half-day enterprising Friday activities represent an astonishing range - art and craft (papercraft, glassmaking, knitting and jewellery- making), sensory activities, putting on a performance and making music with Drake Music; lifeskills in the school's flat, where pupils are taught independent living skills in a home environment; sports; visiting the elderly; micro-publishing; using Wii; cookery; wildlife photography; and film-making.

The judges were particularly impressed by Carrongrange's attempts to reach out beyond the school, but Mrs Robertson explains that it is an uphill struggle to achieve positive destinations for its leavers.

"It has always been a competitive market, but our pupils are now competing against other young people who have better qualifications,' she explains. "Part of what we have to do as a school is make business aware of the contribution our people can make. Just because they have a special school label doesn't mean they don't have excellent work habits."

A pilot project has recently started in partnership with the Action Group, an organisation which helps support people with more complex needs. Using Fairer Scotland funding from the Government, it hopes to help pupils find and sustain real jobs by working with their families and helping the children create vocational profiles.

Another initiative, this time using Determined to Succeed funding, involves a trial programme with Cloybank Estate, offering six pupils the opportunity to develop skills in greenkeeping, dry-stone dyking, falconry, and machinery and engine maintenance.

Although it can be challenging at times to persuade local employers to offer work experience to its pupils, Carrongrange has built up an excellent relationship with the supermarket Asda, which offers support in interview and presentation skills and in healthy eating enterprises. It is also developing links with Mathieson's Bakery.

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