Time to call business's bluff on work

19th March 2004 at 00:00
I admire the principles that underpin Determined to Succeed, the merging of education, the world of work and the embracing of enterprise all to enrich further the opportunities children have in school. Isn't the title itself a badge that all in education should carry on their breast?

On a daily basis, teachers rise to the different challenges presented but continually return to the same point, a determination that our pupils will succeed in partnership with committed, supportive staff.

This combined determination exists and is actively ongoing in schools throughout the land.

I recently attended a "Determined to Succeed" launch in Glasgow. The City Chambers, built at a time when Glasgow was the second city of the Empire, redolent of a bygone age of industrial development and prosperity and constructed as a celebration of the city's manufacturing excellence, was an apt choice of venue.

An invited audience, from the fields of industry, government and learning, matched the venue.

The vision presented was inspirational. Future generations are going to benefit from a coherent approach whereby education, enterprise and the world of work will strategically create a better future for our young people.

Inserting a note of caution is only done with hesitation. I am completely in tune with the initiative. I can work, with staff, to the template presented in the document. My local authority, Glasgow, is behind it: the appointment of an employability and enterprise officer to our learning community testifies to its backing. And yet I am still hesitant.

At the launch, the world of industry was invited to commit to the programme behind Determined to Succeed. Education is committed, both in spirit and by Scottish Executive mandate. That part of the jigsaw is complete. What is awaited is the response from the "world of work".

Each delegate was invited to sign up for involvement in the initiative.

Partners from industry and commerce were presented with appropriate forms.

I would suggest from experience two likely responses: initially, a solid, positive response to involvement, followed by a proportion of interested parties losing interest and a proportion of them sustaining and maintaining involvement.

Unless I am mistaken, a bluff may be about to be called.

It has long been the stated case that education was failing in understanding the needs and demands of the world of work and enterprise, that teachers had no idea of the real world. Consequently, it was said, teenagers were ill-prepared to leave the shelter of school and go forth to this world.

The Scottish Executive has ambitiously challenged all with their initiative. Yes, schools have to become more tuned to enterprise, although that journey is already well underway.

Significantly, has the world of work the drive and commitment that will be required to begin its own journey and meet pupils and teachers on the way? From experience, I have reservations.

Work experience has been with us for some years. It is a brave idea: S4 pupils experiencing a work environment for one full week, preparing them for the future, giving them something the school could not provide. That is the ideal picture.

In reality, teaching staff often spend vast amounts of time preparing pupils and organising placements. This is followed by the pupils experiencing placements which often are pointless, undemanding, unrewarding and even demeaning. It is a marriage where one partner seems more determined to succeed than the other.

I am currently involved in an initiative to secure direct, tangible contact between St Paul's High and five local companies. It is laudable in the extreme. Two partners out of the five have remained constant, three have disappeared.

Determined to Succeed was launched at St Paul's High. The location, I suspect, was not accidental, although any one of countless schools would have fitted the bill.

The school is up for the challenge. The pupils are already displaying entrepreneurial skills daily, encouraged by staff who are thoroughly skilled in the world of work.

The response from industry and commerce will determine how successful this latest drive becomes. The venue for the launch was outstanding; how will the business world now measure up?

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, Glasgow

If you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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