Raise community aspirations by getting students to run a shop
You may think that the concept of putting primary-aged children to work had been discarded for good by the onset of the 20th century, but an innovative scheme in the North East of England is rekindling the idea - albeit in a much more ethical way.
Far from sending children down mines or up chimneys, four primary schools in Walker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, have embarked on an innovative enterprise programme that aims to raise aspirations, teach new skills and even help parents. All this is achieved by putting students behind the counter of a community shop.
The idea arose as a way of tackling low aspiration among students at the four schools - Tyneview, Walkergate, Central Walker and West Walker. Many of the students are from deprived backgrounds and there is fifth- or sixth-generation unemployment in some families.
"What we need to do is encourage aspiration and resilience as well as developing the curriculum," says Steve Gittins, headteacher of Tyneview Primary. "We do a lot for the children that we work with but we can do more.
"The children need to go through a range of feelings and experiences, including success and failure. Improved resilience means they stand much more chance of being successful in the future."
The way to foster these characteristics, the schools decided, was to set up an enterprise scheme, which would help them to tick off curriculum and learning goals, too. Teaming up with the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise project, the schools took control of a former hairdresser's shop and, with the help of Ammar Mirza, founder of Asian Business Connexions, transformed it into a children's business hub.
As the locals scour the neighbourhood shops looking for a bargain, they now come across the schools' own wares, all designed and produced by the children, with a little bit of help from parents and local businesses. The merchandise changes and develops to suit the seasons, with homemade bird boxes planned to welcome the spring.
The emphasis is on providing as true a business experience as possible, Mirza says. Students get advice from professionals such as accountants, lawyers and manufacturers, which gives them an understanding of real business practice.
"They are having regular brainstorming sessions, then putting an action plan together and developing that further - it's business in its truest sense," Mirza explains.
The benefits to the children have been multiple and an added bonus has been parental engagement. "The thing that was particularly refreshing and rewarding is we managed to get the parents involved in the project as well," Mirza says. "I was blown away when we hosted an evening event to promote what we were doing and about 40 or 50 parents attended.
"We're looking to get the parents to start volunteering and building their skills as well. So we're starting to develop and deliver accredited courses around enterprise for the adults. Hopefully this will help them, if they're not in employment, to get employment or lead on to further education."
Not every school has a shop nearby ready to rent, of course, and budgets may not stretch to such an ambitious project. But Primary Inspiration through Enterprise says the same results could be gained from local stores donating just a shelf to students.
Clearly, putting young children to work is bringing benefits, so other schools are sure to roll out similar schemes. Expect to see your local school represented at a nearby supermarket imminently.
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