Superheroes work their skills

13th March 2009 at 00:00

Dr Who, Batman and Indiana Jones don't normally have much to say about Skills for Work - only because nobody asked.

At Brannock High in Motherwell, the superheroes are holding the attention of a demanding group of fourth-year pupils, and skilfully slipping education into the entertainment. "Transferable skills!" cries the caped crusader with the pointy ears and off-white Y-fronts, then lowers his voice: "I'm not actually a superhero. I'm not like Spidy Dude and Super Bloke. I'm just an ordinary human guy who's trained himself to the peak of physical perfection."

Striking a bodybuilder pose that fails to reveal bulging biceps, he gets another big laugh from the pupils watching Skills for Work: What Next? - a fast-paced physical show packed with quicksilver changes of scene, accent and facial expression.

The three performers from Theatre and Ltd seem to be making it up as they go along, touching lightly on the teaching but dwelling lovingly on the laughs. They have been delivering this carefully-crafted show in colleges and schools twice daily for a month, so their spontaneity, enthusiasm and joy in performing are engaging and impressive. The kids love it - as do the teachers.

"It's a good way of getting the ideas across," says Des McAnally, principal teacher of guidance. "Some have behaviour problems; others have been chosen to do Skills for Work courses because they're less motivated by academic subjects.

"We heard about the show through the Careers Scotland adviser in our school, and I'm glad we did. It's not just about enjoyment though. We had mock interviews in the school recently and they didn't do very well. But in the workshops after the show, they were identifying all the problems they had experienced. That will stick in their minds when they go for real interviews."

The workshops are more educationally valuable than the show, believes drama teacher Irene Downie - closer to the format of a classroom lesson but delivered by individuals whose performance has gained the pupils' attention. "We give them the same information in school about what to do at interviews, and we prepare them thoroughly," she says.

"These young people aren't stimulated by listening to teachers, reading books or tapping at a keyboard. We will be reinforcing what they've learned today, in follow-up lessons using role-play and co-operative learning."

Skills for Work: What Next? has been touring colleges and schools from Shetland to the Borders since January, says Sarah Hall, Careers Scotland senior executive. "It's part of our school-college collaboration project that supports the career guidance of secondary pupils thinking of going to college or already on Skills for Work courses. We help them onto courses, with employability while they're on them, and what to do next - which is what this show is about.

"It is aimed at making young people aware of the core and transferable skills they've gained, often without realising it - communicating, presenting themselves well, working in a team - the soft skills employers look for which they learn on any vocational course, whether it's construction or hospitality."

"The first time the guy walked into the interview with a bit of a swagger," says Greg Barr (S4), in his second year of a course in construction. "That was wrong. I learned a lot from the show and the workshop afterwards. I'll remember the funny bits, but not only them. I'll remember the website where you can get more information about careers. They mentioned that a few times."

In class, the superheroes are packing up and moving on, while Learning and Teaching Scotland, which is filming for its case studies on A Curriculum for Excellence good practice, has begun to record pupil reaction. One girl sums it up. "If it's funny and entertaining, we will remember it. That's the way we learn."

School college collaboration videos:

Theatre and Ltd:

ACfE case studies:

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