Secondary school is usually the time when children are introduced to the world of work and industry, but at one Birmingham school they like to start them young. Kings Norton nursery school has forged a working partnership with Pilkington Triplex, the safety glass manufacturer, to give three and four-year-olds some idea of what makes a big industrial concern tick.
For the past three years firefighters from the factory have visited the nursery to tell them more about what they do. Last year, as part of the city's Industry Week, they gave the children a demonstration of firefighting and showed them the safety equipment used when glass is manufactured.
Teachers then organised lessons in drama, music and art to make use of the ideas the children gained through their experiences. They acted as firefighters, using cardboard boxes to make imaginary fire engines, and made upstories in which people were rescued fromburning buildings.
They made a large mural called The Machine using bits of engines, paint and cardboard, and made notices saying "Danger," "Do not touch" and "Fragile".
This year the children will visit the Triplex factory, which is just five minutes away from the nursery, to see how glass is made.
Judy Bowen, the headteacher, says that the children were particularly fascinated by the firefighting equipment. "They see all the apparatus as grown-ups' toys and they love playing with it," she says. "They are really interested in what the firefighters had to do and enjoyed acting out the roles."
Mick Moore, health and safety adviser at Pilkington, says it is important for the company to be involved with the local community. Many of the children's parents work at the factory.
"We wanted to show the children some of the things we do. At this age they're very inquisitive and they really wanted to know more about all the machinery," he said. "It's good experience for them because it helps them find out more about what's going on all around them in the community."
The project is part of Birmingham's Careers and Education Business Partnership (CEBP). Formed last year, it links the city council and the local training and enterprise council. It brings children and young people at schools throughout the city from the age of three to nineteen into contact with several local companies, including Pilkington. The CEBP was formed as the result of a merger of Birmingham Careers Service Partnership and the city's Education Business Partnership. The merged organisati on works with schools, colleges, employers and training providers.
Mary Davies, the partnership's chief executive, says it aims to make full use of strengths which are waiting to be tapped. "It's a reaffirmation of the contribution that all parts of the community, public and private sector, business and education, parents and young people can make," she says. "Our commitment to facilitating the release of this potential can be summed up in our company slogan: Raising Achievement in Birmingham."
The partnership between Pilkington and Kings Norton nursery began when Mrs Bowen was talking to a child who said he went to a childminder sometimes when his mother was at work. But he had no idea what work was.
"They all talk about their parents going to work, but they didn't know what it was," says the headteacher. "The partnership has helped them understand much more about what it acutally involves.
"So, hopefully, when they say they want to be a train driver when they grow up, they will know a bit more about what it would mean in reality. And when they come to decide what sort of career they want, they will be able to make a much better-informed choice. "