You reap what you sow

24th August 2007 at 01:00
WHEN THE headteacher of Kilmarnock Academy decided to make enterprise a top priority, she went to the world's richest country and the home of enterprise for inspiration: America.

There, Carole Ford found businesses keen to work with schools and help shape the future workforce, competition embraced and pupils forced to take on responsibility and, when necessary, face up to failure. It was an approach that resonated with Mrs Ford, who believes Scottish youngsters are too cosseted.

Three years on and Kilmarnock Academy's transformation is underway. Two posts have been created. One is principal teacher of vocational education and enterprise and the other involves redefining the remit of the principal teacher of guidance to focus on the inclusion of enterprising approaches in the Personal and Social Education programme from S1-6.

Ultimately, however, Mrs Ford doesn't just want specific lessons in enterprise she wants enterprise to be built into the culture of the school. She wants pupils to be more confident and responsible, to be able to plan and organise an activity, to see that effort is linked to achievement and understand the importance of business.

Mrs Ford's journey of discovery was facilitated by the Developing Effective International Education Practice programme and began in Boston at Liberty Mutual Insurance, which runs a comprehensive work experience programme for high school pupils after school and during holidays.

Mrs Ford found American businesses were keen to become involved with schools, contrasting sharply with her own experience of schools initiating and maintaining such partnerships.

"Businesses were very interested in preparing the youngsters for work," she explained. "From their perspective, they wanted to influence the workforce by training up hard workers who know what's involved in being employed."

Every school in Boston had a permanent member of staff paid for by the business community to give advice on careers. Mrs Ford visited two schools: Boston Latin School and Charleston High School. At Boston Latin, the pupils' ability to graduate depended on their contributing to school life. Some worked set hours in the school office, others became hall monitors.

Now, at Kilmarnock Academy, every pupil is a member of a work group from the group responsible for organising assemblies to the charities group. They have no choice. "Non-participants have learnt that participation is much better than hanging back," said Mrs Ford.

In America, pupils expected to fail and there was no stigma attached to failure. Instead, the stigma was attached to not trying. "I think we have been trying to eliminate failure from education," continued Mrs Ford. "People need to know the outcome is dependent, to some extent, on what you put in."

Mrs Ford has borrowed much from her trip and built on good practice that already existed. But not everything translates easily from American to British culture.

Take the motivational speaker Mrs Ford saw at Charleston High School: "It was mind-blowing. The kids were really gripped by it the guy was so flamboyant. It was a performance rather than just a talk about being successful, but I doubt we'd get somebody like that here."

Instead, she plans to put together a panel of successful business people from the local area whom pupils can question about their careers.

In America, business are only too keen to train youngsters and prepare them for work, contrasting sharply with Scotland

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