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They start careers early in Spittal Primary;Scottish curriculum

Raymond Ross visits a Lanarkshire school which has brought in a careers teacher to help the pupils think about their futures

In a new guidance and careers initiative every primary school in North and South Lanarkshire has just been sent a careers education pack to raise the aspirations and achievements of P7 pupils.

The scheme has been adopted as the result of an experiment by headteacher Carol Howarth at Spittal Primary in Rutherglen. For three months earlier this year pupils looked at the skills needed for the world of work.

South Lanarkshire careers officer Anne Casserly was seconded to the school, and this was a key element in the project's success. "Because I came in from the grown-up world, it made the experience more real to them," she says. "It geared up their motivation. And now that they've met a careers officer, it might encourage them to access one earlier in their secondary careers - before the apathy sets in."

She adds: "There had never been a careers officer coming into a primary school before. It's an idea which is being quickly taken up by other authorities, according to the tom-tom drums I'm hearing."

Pupils investigated three stages of career development and training, looking at the transition to secondary school, education beyond school and the world of work. Guided by Casserly and senior teacher Julie Oswald, they set about producing a magazine which contained their own reports on all three stages.

This involved visits from former pupils now at local secondaries to waylay fears about secondary school life. There were also trips to Summerlee Heritage Park to look at Lanarkshire's industrial past, Lite-on Technology UK Ltd to assess skills required by the employee of the future, and Motherwell College to introduce them to further education opportunities.

In addition to producing 10 pages of reports in the school magazine, pupils made a presentation to an audience of parents and guardians, Scottish Office representatives, directors of education, HM inspectors and senior staff from the Lanarkshire Development Agency.

The children will now be "tracked" as they go through their different secondaries, to help assess the impact of the project.

"They are more aware of the choices they will have for the future and of their own skills and abilities," says Casserly. "One thing they've learned is that it's okay not to know, and that there are support mechanisms to help them find their way."

The school learned a lot about some of the issues they tackled, like fears of secondary schools.

Julie Oswald says: "We realised just how important these fears are to the children right from the start of P7. Rather than pack all the secondary school liaisons and introductory visits into the summer term, we learned that we have to start at the beginning of the session."

Casserly and Oswald used circle time to introduce the careers officer's role. They used a time capsule to examine what the pupils had done in their past and what they might do in the future. And they used non-stereotypical material with, for example, a female doctor and a male nurse, in order to challenge gender bias.

Pupils made out job applications and provided references for each other. They interviewed secondary pupils and wrote reports.

And their day at Motherwell College was themed around the story of "The Gingerbread Man" to involve them in book and computer research, baking, drama and movement - and, as a bonus, an opportunity to surf the Net.

Parental involvement was crucial to the project's success. At an initial workshop parents were asked questions to find out the information they required concerning careers education.

One surprising result, which Casserly and Oswald put down to morning television, was that a lot of the Spittal parents thought their children would go on to do GCSEs. So this was an opportunity to inform them about Standard grades.

"The aim was not only to raise the aspirations and confidence of the pupils but also to raise the awareness of the parents," says Casserly. "And now that we have done both, we are committed to continuing the work."

In one exercise the pupils had to discuss and then choose the occupations necessary to fill places in a Titanic lifeboat.

"Their debate was mature and informed," says Casserly, "and they decided on doctors, dentists, bakers, builders, someone to look after the wee ones and even an entertainer. But there were very few teachers and not one careers adviser."

Maybe they know something.

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