One school has set up a relationship with several local firms which they view as a real opportunity for change. Raymond Ross reports.
FIRRHILL HIGH School in Edinburgh has an amazing track record in work experience and hands-on enterprise education.
The school won the 1997 UK Proshare National Investment Programme on its first attempt, beating more than 1,000 schools at compiling a pound;50,000 share portfolio and monitoring its progress on the stock market. Various of its school "companies" have swept the boards with Lothian and National Enterprise Scotland awards since 1995, they have won the Skene Young Entrepreneurs Award and the Junior Quality Scotland Award, as well as the Shell Mini Group Investigation Award for reporting on a local economic issue.
Now Firrhill has set up a business partnership which it hopes will feed directly into the school curriculum. At a meeting in the city's west end at the end of March, the Firrhill High School Business Partnership was formally inaugurated. Seven school representatives, including the headteacher, Patricia Cairns, and Linda McAulay, principal teacher of business studies, met 10 representatives from the Edinburgh business community.
"The partnership is unique in that we can get in on the ground level with a school where we can invest in the future and develop genuine industry-school links. The key thing here will be making a difference," said John Shaw, managing director of Shaw Marketing and Design, who chaired the meeting.
Echoing his comments, Patricia Cairns said: "We want pupils to understand the practical application of the skills they learn at school. It will be mutually beneficial."
The Firrhill Business Partnership is intended to be a model initiative that will eventually spread to include other schools. "This is an investment in the market place and in society. We must instil in pupils the idea that life is not a rehearsal. It's for real," said Phillip Barr, group corporate services director of Morrison Construction Builders. His emphasis on "real" experience was echoed by all the business representatives including Ron Dawson, honorary secretary of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors who stressed that it must not be contrived.
Ron Dawson also emphasised the importance of encouraging enterprise education as early as possible. "S1 to S3 is the right time. If we don't get to the pupils then, we will fail. By S4 it's too late to change attitudes" - or as Paul Adams, assistant manager Scottish Widows Finance put it: "We've got to capture them and grow them."
Great value was laid on the nurturing of "transferrable skills" in pupils who were highly unlikely in today's market place to get a job for life, though this was not to be done at the expense of academic excellence.
Prior to the meeting depute head John Brown had spoken of the Edinburgh economy as very buoyant, saying "the recruitment opportunities are there that we hope to fill, whether through fourth year leavers or through our pupils attending university with a clear idea of the business world" But Ron Dawson warned of an impending "crash in available skills" in the construction industry in the next three or four years. "We are only training a third of the tradespeople we will need. I don't believe the future lies with university education. We need more blue collar engineers and the like - yes, even in Edinburgh."
Literacy and numeracy were real concerns for the business representatives, who lamented the abysmal failure of many pupils to interview impressively. Interview training has already begun at Firrhill and is a specific area the partnership will develop alongside genuine work experience for pupils, work placements in various businesses for teachers and business representatives coming into the school to talk to pupils.
But it was also accepted that business has to learn how to feed into the curriculum in a way that suits both business and school. "We need to understand the curriculum just as teachers need to gain real experience with business," said Phillip Barr.