Colleges partnership with schools: 10 top tips

Dec 14, 2013 by

Ofsted recently judged Blackpool and The Fylde College outstanding for its relationship with local schools. Andy Iredale reveals how it was done

1. Start small

Delivering pilot versions of an event allows you to test what works best on a smaller scale and spot any areas for improvement.

An example is our super learning days, where we run activities on a particular career or topic at a school. For one of the pilot days I ran a workshop on creating a double page advert for a magazine, as I have a background in advertising. I thought it had gone well, but when I asked the pupils whether they had enjoyed the session they said it was ok, but that they made posters all the time at school and it was the same thing.

It was an important lesson to learn early on. Talk to young people about what they would like to do. You might think you have a good idea, but that doesn’t mean they will.

2. Variety is vital

Different activities appeal to different pupils, so you need to develop a range of choices when running an event at a school.

The biggest mistake we made was initially not giving pupils enough variety during super learning days. Children consume experiences quickly, so events that allow pupils to try out a range of tasks tend to be the most successful. When we run the balloon car challenge day, where students design and race a car built from scrap, they move between job roles until they find what interests them most. They can work on the mechanics of the car, calculate how much it’s going to cost and brainstorm ideas for how to market the vehicle.

3. Support schools with the problems they face

One issue that’s come to our attention is that some schools struggle to deliver useful information, advice and guidance. We’ve always supported schools with traditional careers advice, such as one-to-one sessions, but three years ago we realised we’d been missing opportunities to be more creative.

Following a conversation with a business teacher, who was finding it difficult to get their free school meal pupils interested in enterprise skills, we decided that a lecturer with a background in retail management would run a session on the different job roles in a supermarket. They discussed the behind the scene jobs you might not think of, the salaries people were likely to receive and the potential for career progression.

Young people are often unsure about what they want to do and it’s helpful to get them thinking openly about the different paths they can take, rather than simply informing them about specific roles.

4. Help students with their exams

When running career events, maths, English and science teachers supply us with the top 20 banana skins that trip students up in their GCSE exams, and we discuss these during the day, explaining why the skills matter in the context of the jobs market.

We also run events focused on improving a range of core subject skills. Currently, we are devising a motorway accident scenario to take place in a school assembly hall, which will become an emergency hospital. Students will have to work through medical scenarios that test their maths, English and science skills – writing patient notes, prescribing drugs and communicating with the press.

5. Find ways to support schools without always being there

Providing schools with resources is a great way to offer support without physically being in the building. Our photographs of blood splatter have proved to be particularly helpful for maths teachers, who use them to teach calculating shape space, velocity and distance.

We’re also building a bank of activities based on the top 20 banana skins pupils tend to trip on during exams that schools can dip into.

6. Don’t underestimate the expertise in schools

Sometimes we have assumed we are offering a unique work-related experience to students for the first time, only to discover that the same idea has been run very effectively before by school staff. You need to work hard to bring a fresh perspective and it’s crucial to talk to schools about whether they have done anything similar in the past.

7. Let schools decide who to target

With the balloon car challenge, where pupils work in teams to design and race a car built from scrap, we have a group of students who are managing directors who oversee the different teams.

The first time we ran this challenge I said that the first 10 people who put their hands up could be managing directors. It was a bad move. The team was far too an eclectic mix of students and two of them didn’t get on. Mercifully, within 45 minutes a teacher stepped in to change the group to people they thought were more suitable.

Sometimes it works letting pupils dictate what activity they’d like to do, but when it comes to running a complex task where students are doing something unusual then it’s best to seek advice from the school.

8. Avoid logistical headaches

Collapsed curriculum days are generally very difficult for schools to manage on site. Anything that turns timetabling on its head runs the risk of confusion and people getting lost.

The best way to organise a day is by working with what’s normal for the school, so explain what’s happening in the assembly and then split students into their form groups for each activity. It’s also helpful to have form tutors stay with their group throughout the day and we always sit down with someone from the senior leadership team to discuss our plans prior to the event. There’s nothing worse than having 300 children and 15 teachers being irritated and lost.

9. Team-teach with school staff

Wherever possible we run activities jointly with teachers. If I’m teaching writing for advertising, I can bring industry experience but teachers know the context of what I’m teaching. They can make links with what students have been learning and flag up points that will be useful in an exam.

10. Allow schools to come up with the wackiest idea possible and run with it

Show schools what you can do by saying to them: tell us what you want us to do and we’ll organise it.

One school once asked for their students to come to our campus where we train people for the navy. It was a great fun day where pupils also got to learn about their subject. For example, while steering a ship in our simulator we taught them about trigonometry.

Andy Iredale is the director of student recruitment at Blackpool and The Fylde College. He tweets as @andyiredale.

via How colleges can build better partnerships with schools: 10 top tips | Education | Guardian Professional.

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