Projects with purpose

8th October 2004 at 01:00
A huge budget to spend and business meetings at Stobo Castle and the local Hydro are giving pupils at Peebles High a positive 'can do' attitude. This is enterprise education like you've never seen it, writes Raymond Ross

Putting 10 sixth-year pupils in charge of a pound;250,000 budget might not be everyone's idea of devolved school management but at Peebles High, in the Borders, it is just one example of the enterprise education projects being undertaken.

Bus D, as the project is called, refers to the D-shaped bus park in the grounds, which can no longer cope with the number of buses needed to ferry pupils to and from the large rural secondary school.

For several years, architects have worked with the headteacher and local councillors to reach a solution. A number of plans have been proposed, but as yet there is no agreement.

The task for the senior pupil group is to consider the proposals to date, decide either to go ahead with an existing plan or devise a new one, liaise with councillors and the headteacher, keep all parties informed of progress, monitor and evaluate their own progress and make a formal presentation of their findings.

"It is only one of nine S6 enterprise projects which has the sixth year buzzing," says depute headteacher Paul Fagan.

"There is an excitement and I think they've overcome their initial reaction of 'They're really going to let us do this!'"

The nine projects are all designed to impact practically on the school in some way and are run entirely by S6 pupils. Each group has a member of staff as a consultant, but the consultants are managed by the students rather than vice versa.

"Staff like that too. It's not their onerous task. It's the pupils'. The ethos is respect for the senior pupils," says Mr Fagan.

Devolving responsibility to pupils and giving them respect is not limited to seniors. Enterprise education is being embedded in the whole school curriculum.

On September 17 the school launched its business partnership, involving some 50 local businesses, at the Peebles Hydro, which the school now regularly uses for business partnership meetings.

Among the group's strategic aims, two of the most important are to offer students a series of progressive businessenterprise activities from S1 to S6 and to focus on core skills by preparing pupils within real-life situations.

"The business people are involved in the strategic development of our enterprise education," says headteacher John Brown. "As joint leaders, they are involved in the process of delivering the skills to the pupils. They have the experience and expertise the school can tap into. They can transfer their leadership skills to the school environment and develop the skills they want for the future."

Mr Brown began preparing the partnership by visiting local hotels, builders, retail outlets, garages and factories to meet the mangements on their own ground and tell them they had something to offer.

No meetings take place in the school. They are mostly at the Hydro or at the exclusive health resort of Stobo Castle. They are always in business locations so that the business community feels ownership.

"To undertake the project you have to be flexible and adaptable to your local businesses," says Mr Brown.

In the summer term last session the school undertook three enterprise projects to sell the partnership idea to the business community. All S1 pupils were involved in a marketing project with eight businesses to design and produce carrier bags which advertised the local Beltane Festival in June. Six S3 pupils worked on website production with a local ICT firm. And 20 S3 pupils worked with a local builder on all aspects of planning to build a house.

"The philosophy is to offer opportunities to develop core skills in real-life situations and business contexts. If you give young people reality and motivation, they will respond," says Mr Brown.

"Peebles High has an excellent academic record but there's more to education than exams. Enterprise education is for all pupils here, not just the non-academic ones. It's to get all the pupils from S1 to S6 to develop self-motivation and achievement, to get them to appreciate they can all lead and that they can all contribute in a leadership way to the school," he says.

The school has now introduced a construction course (brick laying, plumbing, painting and decorating) in conjunction with Borders College.

Although projects like last term's have practical outcomes it is the process that matters most, getting young people to focus as a team, to learn from mistakes and move on, to take responsibility, to lead and to leave their mark.

"The process of learning is as important as exam results," says Mr Brown, "and the enterprise education approach fits perfectly with the present emphasis on learning and teaching, on styles of learning, on how people learn.

"It's about developing core skills and transferable skills in an economy where people are more likely to change jobs more frequently than in the past. It's about lifelong learning."

Peebles High appointed its first principal teacher of enterprise education, Brian Mahler, in May. His task, among other things, is to develop the business partnership, liaising with the 30 businesses which have already decided to commit time and input to the project.

He intends to bring business people into the school to work with small groups, developing the core skills of numeracy, using information technology, problem solving, communication and working with others. This may involve setting challenges, with pupils then going out to the businesses to use their resources and facilities and giving a formal presentation of their solutions in school to the companies'

representatives, their peers and the teachers.

"For example, an oil company which didn't have an induction pack for new employees gave a half-hour talk to S3 pupils, who then spent a half-day at the business to find out information on company policies, social events, work plans and so forth. They then presented their proposed induction pack in school to the company," says Mr Mahler.

The benefits of this kind of approach are that it involves different ways of learning, different contexts for learning and it has a specific emphasis on core skills.

The potential of local businesses is there to be tapped, especially for rural schools, says Mr Brown.

"Most Scottish schools are based in small towns or rural areas where there is often a loyalty to the local school. I'd advocate this way of partnership working.

"We are part of the community and the community can have a genuine input to enhance young people's learning experiences.

"Positive influence from outwith the school on both pupils and teachers is essential to a healthy educational institution," he says.

The commitment, especially for the senior management team, is huge, but the benefits, outcomes and experiences for the pupils far outweigh that commitment.

"The process of learning is now seen as being as important as exam results," says Mr Brown.

His own enquiries showed that there were skills needs in hospitality, construction, engineering and information technology in the Borders. "We are focusing on sectors that will help make a successful local and national economy. We now have S2 pupils who will be doing hospitality in hotels, for example.

"We also have 13-year-olds who can demonstrate skills in plumbing that they would otherwise have had to wait to discover when they were 16 or 17.

"And we're in the process of converting a classroom into a hairdressing salon.

"We would rather have had the pupils going out to salons to learn, in keeping with our principles, but none of the local salons are large enough to cope with our numbers," he says.

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