Giving students the skills to thrive at work

According to the Office for National Statistics, official figures show that, worryingly, 2.47 million people aged 16 and over are unemployed, of these, 1.07 million 16-24 year olds were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) in the third quarter of 2013, down 19,000 from April to June 2013 and 28,000 from a year earlier. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have also found that over 11,000 children are currently missing from education. These figures reveal that large urban areas have the highest number of youngsters who are not in education.

Statistics published by NEET, the DfE and Barnardos are undoubtedly alarming. At All Saints, we are aware of the issues faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds and have chosen to act on them.

Here in Dagenham, we are located in one of the most disadvantaged areas in the country, with an ever-changing demographic profile. Despite this we refuse to let the challenges of the local environment prevent our students from succeeding and so we strive to offer them exceptional support. Through our efforts, we are seeing high rates of achievement and our overriding ethos is to take ordinary children and turn them into someone special.
As a result, our school is the most successful school in the local authority of Barking and Dagenham. We have sought to establish the school as an ‘oasis’ where the streets and the effects of deprivation are kept firmly on the outside. By providing a nurturing environment for our students and offering a strong support system, we help to raise their personal expectations and standards so that they regularly reach and exceed their goals.

Attainment goals
Our students genuinely have a desire to succeed and, just ten years after All Saints opened, 50 per cent of learners gained five A-C grade GCSEs. That was a notable achievement for us and it has set the attainment standard for all our learners; they all want to belong to the 5 GCSE Club – which as the name suggests, is a club we set up for students who receive 5 GCSEs – and are prepared to work hard to achieve it.

Last year, 82 per cent of our students achieved 5 A*-C with English and maths. We want our students to feel inspired and encouraged to go on and reap the rewards of these results after they have left the school and enter into higher education or the workforce.  

Changing cultures
Our students are taught to respect and  value their peers, and to believe in their own abilities. Over the past few years, school culture has changed and we have adapted to meet these changes. We introduced the Year 10 interview day almost six years ago when work first began on the initial stages of Ofsted’s report ‘Moving through the system – information, advice and guidance’. The report focused on the importance of providing high quality information and guidance to enable young people, parents and carers to make well-informed choices regarding their education. It highlighted that the quality of advice and guidance failed to meet the needs of some of the most potentially vulnerable young people, which sounded alarm bells for us due to the location of All Saints. One of the key recommendations for secondary schools was to improve the planning and quality of careers education and work-related activities in schools, and so we took this on board in its entirety.  

Practice making perfect
Ensuring that our students are equipped with the best skill sets when they leave is paramount, and building up belief in their own capabilities is a huge part of that. Many of our students have tremendous potential but their ability to present themselves in a confident and articulate way is not their strength. It is very often their lack of verbal communication that prevents them from projecting their talents in interviews. By enabling students to practice various interview processes, we are removing intimidating elements from the exercise. Students are better prepared for real life scenarios and learn valuable skills in showcasing their employability.
15 year old Sheldon Filbert said of his interview experience: “It was a very useful experience as it helped me to understand what interviewers are looking for.  The feedback I got was good – but they said I needed to smile more! I want to go to university to study computer or software courses and I know this is a popular area so anything that can give me an edge when it comes to applying for jobs is really helpful.” Joy Ogundayisi, also 15, said: “I wouldn’t have appreciated the experience when I was younger, but I do now and would really like another at a later stage.”

Community spirit
When we decided to reach out to local agencies and businesses for support, the response we received was inspiring. Over 20 businesses including HMRC, David Lloyd Fitness Centre, Hay Group, Roebuck Air Ambulance and the Local Government, immediately volunteered their time and expertise.
All 180 Year 10 students participate in a 30-45 minute interview with representatives from the individual businesses. The process is designed to mirror a real life interview scenario; students are briefed about the company that will interview them and it is their responsibility to research the company and prepare accordingly. Immediately after the interview, they are given constructive written feedback assessing factors that relate to self presentation such as body language, eye contact and verbal projection.         

When meeting with potential employers, we want our students to have the ability to promote themselves and highlight their achievements with confidence, and the feedback is designed to support this. Students have said they benefit greatly from the experience, and the local businesses enjoy connecting with the community on a personal level, fostering a sense of ‘giving back’.

Placement and apprenticeships
The Interview Day is followed by a two week work experience placement. Understanding the importance of attendance, punctuality, dress codes and appropriate manners can be embedded in schools but seeing this in action in the work place really brings this home for the students.

Being treated as an adult and taking on responsibilities that they would otherwise not be able to in a school environment is only one part of the two week experience. Putting employability skills into action means seeing quieter students build their confidence and become great ambassadors for the school and for other young people, which in turn shows employers what great future employees they will make.

Encouraging all abilities
It is important to acknowledge that not every student will achieve straight As in their examinations; some students are naturally more practical than academic. Apprenticeships allow these students to continue to learn in a workplace environment. Working with professionals, learning the key skills associated with the job and being part of a team where you feel valued and are able to make a difference gives these young people the skills needed to progress.

Opportunities in all areas are available and students are often surprised by the variety of apprenticeships open to them. Many of our students that have taken positions as apprentices have been employed by the company they started with as they have been very impressed with the commitment and dedication to the course and company.

The future
Our role is to open the door for every student to progress and enjoy their working life once they leave All Saints. Giving them the opportunities to experience the world outside the school gates is part of the preparation and enables them all to become successful individuals.
Aware that building the future of all our students takes place in and out of the classroom, in addition to the Interview Day initiative, we have implemented incentive and reward schemes, carry out a lot of work in assemblies and talk regularly about role models that the students can relate to. Our staff are outstanding: industrious and committed, they always have the pupils at the centre of their work.

The wider community also plays a supportive role is shaping our students. By continuing to explore confidence‑building programmes that encourage students, continued teamwork and positive community involvement, I am certain that our successes will carry on long into the future.

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