A pilot project to equip school-leavers better for working life believes in getting them young. Yesterday it was launched nationally, as Wendy Wallace reports
At Warmsworth Primary School in Doncaster, they start preparing children for the world of work from the word go. It's not only in the visit of Police Constable White and a local health visitor to the nursery, followed by a tour of the school office and discussion of the role of the headteacher. It's in the way the four-year-olds are encouraged to register on arrival at school, help themselves to their milk when they want it and take responsibility for tidying up before they go.
Warmsworth is one of more than 50 schools around the country using a framework called "Pathways", which aims to bridge the gap between the contents of the national curriculum and the requirements of employers. The project was launched yesterday by Guy Walker, chairman of Unilever.
The Pathways toward Adult and Working Life project originated from discussions between educationists and employers about how better to equip school-leavers for working life. It harnesses many ideas already current in schools - such as the need for education for citizenship and self-reliance - and adds on some of its own. "The Pathways project aims to integrate moral and spiritual understanding, knowledge of the environment, citizenship and the economy into schools' teaching," says Brian Wright of the London Enterprise Agency, backers of the project.
Not surprisingly, some of the headteachers approached to pilot Pathways were initially reluctant to take on another shiny new method of improving themselves and their pupils. But two years later, enthusiastic heads say it gives rigour and structure to some important areas of learning, and motivates staff and pupils alike. An evaluation by Nottingham University's School of Education also gave the framework the thumbs-up. "The Pathways Project has had a positive impact upon those areas of teaching and learning most closely related to preparing young people for adult and working life," says Dr Alma Harris of Nottingham.
Ray Horsfield is head of Warms-worth, a bright, well-organised school where the art displays in the entrance hall range from Alberto Giacometti to L S Lowry to pupils' own expressive work. Warmsworth is one of 18 schools which took part in the pilot project for Pathways and Ray Horsfield is a fan. "It's very flexible," he says. "It gives good practices more rigour and more purpose, and the senior management team has used it as a basis for effectiveness and improvement throughout the school."
So what is it? The London Enterprise Agency describes Pathways as the "cement" to the "bricks" of the national curriculum. Aimed at children from five to 18, it provides a structured approach to personal and social education through a detailed series of objectives and learner outcomes. Although not a subject in itself, it is intended to influence whole-school policy, and the way the national curriculum is delivered. "It's a weave-in, not an add-on," says Mary Creagh of the agency. Local education authorities involved in the pilot undertook training in implementing Pathways themselves.
The framework is based on three areas: self; self and others; and self in the world of work and the wider community. In each area, teachers are given a range of targets and a series of steps to help them analyse how to bring about the desired result and recognise the child's level. One target in the area of "self", for instance, is that children should be able to recognise and talk about their strengths and current limitations. This is interpreted in increasingly sophisticated ways as children go through their school years.
The project materials tackle a range of headings in the same way, in a kind of painting-by-numbers approach to personal, social - and employability - education. But teachers say it works. Meryl Gray, deputy head at Edlington School, an 1,120-pupil comprehensive outside Doncaster, introduced Pathways as part of the pilot. "It fitted in with the way things were moving in school, " she says. "We were looking at preparing students for the world beyond school, but there was no overall rationale behind it. Pathways gave us a reason for doing things, and a more practical way of going about things."
The project has resulted in PSE at the school being re-organised in a more structured way, and renamed "guidance". But, says Mrs Gray, the framework is also strongly felt in a range of other areas. Involvement with a local stone quarry has influenced science teaching. "Students visit the quarry, and have the opportunity to do some environmental work," she says. "But they also look at peoples' jobs, how they work in teams, what is required of them."
Business and outside speakers have been brought in with clearer objectives, which they like. "You can look at the outcomes, and say 'you will help us deliver this'," she says.
Is it right to slant education further towards the needs of industry, particularly in an area like Doncaster where unemployment among the under-25 stands at 12 per cent?
"It's not as narrow as fitting you for the world of work," says Meryl Gray. "It's all those things that we were never prepared for - the sort of skills you need to survive as a good citizen."
Pathways is designed to try and help older students know themselves, plan their careers and have the ability to solve problems and take initiatives.
Matthew Parker, a 15-year-old pupil at Edlington, is a testament to the success of the approach. Interested in the performing arts, he has opted for drama and dance GCSEs, on top of the core subjects. He is clued up on higher education possibilities in the field, but has opted to do his work experience in a bank. "If I don't make it as an actor, I can always get a job as an accountant," he says.
The Pathways Resource Pack, published by Kogan Page at Pounds 99, will be available from the end of June 1997. For further details, tel: 0171 278 1545