Over the past year I have had the privilege to work in a small school in the Western Suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. It models a unique teaching and learning environment with a constructivist/nature based philosophy operating in a multi-age/multi teacher classroom. The school has ensured that all College students have opportunity to pursue their own path of academic excellence which has included WACE Courses, Nationally Accredited Certificate Courses through TAFE, Endorsed Programs and a partnership with Distance Education.
Our Workplace Learning (Careers) has been through significant change; over the past year we have sought to find the best model for authentic vocational partnerships. Last year, we stumbled across a pocket of educational brilliance that inspired us to reconsider many portions of the traditional workplace program we offered.
In 2011, STUDIO SCHOOLS were launched in Great Britain – schools (initially three) which focused around engaging students into “authentic partnerships with local businesses”. The school had an immediate and significant impact on student outcomes and in just 12 months has grown from 3 schools to over 60 with plans for the project to be available as a mainstream model for education in the UK and the full endorsement and funding of the British Government.
The more we examined this model, the more excited we became; because many of the unique features of the Studio School were already imbedded in our teaching and learning practices – Accredited Academic Excellence, Personalised curriculum, Practical based learning, Focus on Employability & Job-Readiness, Requirements for an intimate Small school setting and Student cohorts of mixed abilities.
The piece that has been missing (for many WPL programs) is the relationship with the business community. We have established some fantastic workplace learning experiences for students with some big name operators; however, the focus of these partnerships has been to meet the criteria for the accredited Workplace Learning Course. We were inspired to trial a model which gave the work placement a more “central role” by which there is a richer and more INFORMED, inter-relationship with the rest of the school curriculum.
Workplace Partnerships have GREAT potential; especially in a post compulsory education setting. They could/should offer;
- Employer Projects that are integrated with at-school learning in partnership with the teaching staff.
- Ongoing Mentorship and Coaching (INTER-RELATED not INDEPENDENT OF the child’s school goals).
- Like-any-other-employee expectation (though this isn’t a unique property – it is foregrounded)
- Paid work placements! Because payment is also an authentic part of our working life.
For example: Angela is a local business owner who runs a large furniture import & distribution business. She has expressed interest in partnering on a project with a student (Mary).
Angela prepares a brief “advertisement” for the position. Let’s say “Import Researcher”.
Mary’s first task is to apply for the position; Her Cover Letter, Resume and Selection Criteria are authentically seeking the position but also double as an assessment item for her English Course. Ideally, Mary could be interviewed and “appointed”. Mary works on her first day in the storeroom with Gavin and Doreen. Her assignment for the week is to profile the range of furniture pieces that the import company offer for distribution (these could be photographed and added to Mary’s portfolio).
Back at school, Mary researches where some of these pieces are sold in Perth and for what price. Mary is also asked to identify five places which offer similar stock pieces to Angela’s. Mary is required to produce a written report of her findings and present it to Angela and a member of her Sales team by week five.
I believe that this kind of unique partnership allows a shift in our focus from merely delivering a workplace learning ENCOUNTER to an integrated and comprehensive work-readiness program that is unique in delivery and function. A curriculum that allows us to broaden our skill development to include Communication, Relate-ability, Enterprise Planning and execution, Critical Thinking Skills and the development of Emotional Intelligence. Isn’t this what the business community SAY they want from young people emerging from the education system?
Employers have consistently raised concerns that young people are leaving education without key employability skills and a general awareness of the world of work. Many are frustrated by the failings of the traditional two-week ‘work experience’ block, and share the view that more must be done to improve the authenticity of work experience and the quality of employer engagement in education. Strong links with local employers lie at the heart of these ideas. Employability skills need to run through most aspects of our vocational curriculum, from the way students learn to the qualification and accreditation they achieve.
VET can’t remain an independent, extra-curricular consideration of our schools if we are to fairly service this growing school market. Thanks for showing us another option STUDIO SCHOOLS!