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Two-year stint with companies puts pupils on a firm footing

The idea of working the room at a business lunch, glass in one hand and plate in the other, fills many adults with dread. But pupils at Manchester Academy have learnt to take it in their stride.

The pupils, from the notoriously deprived Moss Side area, have stopped doing a traditional one- or two-week slot of work experience. Instead, they get enterprise training and regular placements with firms over a two-year period.

"We don't do the kind of work experience where pupils end up making the tea for two weeks," said Jane Delfino, innovations director for 13 academies sponsored by the United Learning Trust, including Manchester.

"Most work experience is just a waste of time for children and businesses," she said. "In an urban setting like ours, it has got to be personalised. Developing the personal skills needed to succeed in business is as important as gaining academic qualifications. It is massive for them, giving them the confidence to walk into any room or company."

Ms Delfino has introduced a dizzying range of activities at Manchester, where she is based. There are links with local firms, and pupils are encouraged to launch their own businesses. One group of pupils will soon start exporting jewellery to a school in Spain.

Her efforts were recognised last year, when she became the first teacher to receive the Queen's Award for Enterprise at Buckingham Palace. She was praised for using enterprise to improve the attitudes and prospects of young people from poor backgrounds. The school's partnerships are tightly organised and managed so that businesses know what is expected of them and how they can help pupils.

Pupils in Years 9 and 10 build relationships with the companies, which include placements only when they are able to contribute. Year 11 pupils are back in school full-time to focus on exams. Next month, pupils will be launching their own website, which will be linked to the online magazine Manchester Confidential.

Mark Garner, the site's publisher, has been mentoring pupils from the academy for the past year. "If we are going to make a difference to the problems in Manchester," he said, "we have to start with the hardest-to-reach young people. This is about giving them a real alternative to what they see on their estates."

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