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A lesson in employer engagement

Representatives from three North East schools and colleges visited School 21 in London to find out about the school’s innovative approach to employer engagement. The visit built on the progress the schools and colleges have already achieved as part of the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, which are being piloted in the North East and which aim to transform careers guidance in schools.

School 21 is known for having developed strong links with local employers, with each of its students completing practical work placements, during which they work on a solution to a real workplace project.

Leanne Johnston, Assistant Headteacher at The King Edward VI School in Morpeth was one of the attendees.

The team at School 21 really are inspirational and I had heard from them at various events, so as soon as the opportunity to visit came around, I wanted to go.

As soon as you enter the school you get the impression it’s something different and you can’t help but feel inspired when you go there. The biggest thing for me was speaking to the students. They are confident, eloquent and spoke really well.

At School 21, students typically study for eight GCSEs: one or two fewer than most schools. This is to prioritise the school’s additional activities, including those around employability.

Year 10 students complete two work placements across the academic year – every Wednesday afternoon they are on placement. The students get a mid-placement appraisal, as well as an exit appraisal from their employer which adds to the real experience; it replicates performance management protocols and also allows impact to be measured.

While on placement, students are working towards the completion of a project or brief which has been set by the employer, which makes it different from traditional ‘shadowing’ type of work experience.

We met some of the staff at the school who explained that, when it comes to pitching requests to businesses, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach – partnerships need to be nurtured and may take a while to develop.

A lot of the principles which School 21 use in terms of employer engagement we use too, here in the North East, but our situations are very different – for example our location and number of students – we share a lot of principles but in a different context.

The visit was organised in conjunction with The Edge Foundation, an independent education charity which works to raise the status of technical and professional education.

Olly Newton, Director of Policy and Research at The Edge Foundation, said:

It was a fascinating visit. As well as seeing some of the amazing work the students had produced during their projects, we also heard about the school’s approach to project-based learning and met some year 10 students who were really engaging.

The school places a big emphasis on ‘oracy’, highlighting that oral communication skills are as important as written communication, and this really came across when talking to the students about their work placements.

One of the main lessons was how to really engage employers in the life of the school, using specific projects where young people are delivering something back to the business. By taking on a business problem, the placement is delivering a new solution for the business as well as developing the workforce of the future. It’s an alternative to the more usual CSR perspective for offering a work placement.

Find out more about the Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks which are being piloted in the North East.