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‘I am astounded’

img_1054Those were the words of the STEM ambassador Gareth Attwood who came to support our event today. He was unable to come first thing so joined the activity at the end of the morning. ‘How can I help them?’ he asked as he arrived. I suggested he just go and have a chat with each group to get an idea of what they were doing. So what were they doing?

They were focussing on how to be creative. That doesn’t mean they were drawing pretty pictures for fun. They had tackled a range of activities during the first part of the morning that got them thinking about creativity for a purpose and how that related to jobs that they might like to do….or not do in the future. Considering we had a mix of Y1s from Ormesby Primary and Y4s from St Benedict’s it was brilliant how they mixed in with ideas. All this prepared them for a task to design a new LEGO set using the great ‘Build to Express’ sets as a basis. Of course they were not allowed to just build. They had to create a simple business plan starting with targeting an audience, identifying a value proposition for that audience then working out their USP. Confused? They weren’t!

To show how fabulous their teamwork was I also asked them to make a short advert. I had assumed that they knew how to use iMovie but they didn’t. Was that a problem? Not really. They had a problem to solve so they overcame it. I gave them a few pointers and the results are below. I occasionally run whole days using iMovie as a great vehicle for developing wider ’employability’ skills in a creative context. A whole day using iMovie produces a very polished product; these children not only learned the basics of iMovie but also planned and produced a short movie to a brief…in 45mins. Well done to all of them. As I said before they left,  ‘If you watch it and think you could have done a bit better here or a lot better there then brilliant – because you are now learning to add quality to your work and will build it in next time’.

Passing a test is a one off event; walking around with an understanding of how to improve is effective for ever.

Wintry Weather? We have got it sorted!

img_1033Isn’t it great to be back into a new year? Don’t all cheer at once! Well after a first week back of working in classrooms we had our first centre based event today which involved teams from our local VEX league. The league was funded by the CSI and we wanted to build in some one off ‘cup competition’ type events….today was the first.

We had six schools who could make it for the whole day and they were issued with the challenge of creating a variation on their original clawbot designs. With the weather looking like being exciting for drivers in the next few days the challenge was to design and build a snow plough. Unfortunately I2L has not had the pleasure of the snow queen as yet this year but a mix of cubes and paper shreds stood in its place.img_1031

The teams were tasked with not only designing, building and testing their designs but also to showcase them in the form of an advert by the end of the day. It was brilliant to watch teams sitting in huddles with paper and pencils, discussing ideas, trying them out, discarding them, going back to previous designs and so on. I’d have this lot project planning with me any day.

As you can see from the pics below there were a range of designs and some of the groups wanted to add a green screen element for authenticity.

It fills me with great pride that children in our local schools just consider use of green screen, voice over and animation as ‘what they do’. Sadly with time constraints the finished videos have suffered from some issues of sound quality but that in itself has been a great learning experience. The playlist below has the finished videos for you to enjoy.

So now I can put my feet u……….oh no we have another 70 in tomorrow using LEGO with iPads for a creativity challenge…..I can’t wait!

“the Inspire2Learn centre does exactly what it says on the tin: it inspired us to learn”

Maybe I am getting lazy using quotes from the teachers and children who use the centre as post titles but my excuse is that they reflect the feedback we get from the events.

IMG_1279We had our first Y5 Aspiration Fair a week or so ago attended by 250 pupils from 6 of our primary schools. By the time we have completed the next four planned we will have had close to 2000 pupils through the door.

But what is it?

Anyone who has read this blog recently will know that most of our events are underpinned by the belief that we need to raise children’s aspirations for what their futures could be like after they leave school; or what is the point in being there? We also know from a fair bit of research (the ASPIRES stuff is probably the most accessible) that throwing money at 14-19 is probably missing the boat by a fair margin (though should not be ignored!). My own experience as a primary school teacher tells me that by about Y5 children are already deciding what they definitely aren’t going to be based on very little information. So one of our big aims here is to ensure that any activity has an underlying theme of employability skills and opening eyes to possibilities.

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Based on our thinking from the last paragraph it was inevitable that our Aspiration Fairs would be created. We targeted the key sectors where employment possibilities will be greatest (data from TVU) in the next ten years: Logistics, Engineering, Digital Tech and Construction. To ensure that schools had few barriers to attending we have created a range of dates and even paid for their bus travel via Routes to Employment who have worked really closely with us to make this a success. They even ran one of the sessions so that the children had a flavour of thinking about their own career. It is a taster of something that they are offering into primary schools over the next year.

Two hours broken into 20 minute intense ‘workshops’ led by real people from a range of roles in each sector proved to be very effective. Becky from ItchyRobot certainly inspired a whole table of girls that I spoke to, especially one who hadn’t realised that studying art was a desirable part of web design. PD Ports brought a huge ‘tractor’ (not a Massey-Ferguson) with Harry and Jim which created the basis of conversations around the IMG_1284importance of Teesport and moving goods around. Andrew and his apprentice from Jacobs and Connor from Cleveland Bridge showed different aspects of engineering and Dave from GoAhead brought loads of hands on activities based on VEX and Crumble. Construction had great role models in Sharon and Jess representing NAWIC and the wide range of roles that the word ‘construction’ obscures. It was breathless for the presenters and a real dose of groundhog day but the feedback from the schools was even better than we had aimed for.

IMG_1287Several teachers have told me that the conversations about different careers have continually resurfaced in the ensuing couple of weeks, especially in relation to work they are doing in the classroom. This interests me particularly because of a conversation I had recently with a secondary school leader. She told me that the school was working hard to ensure that all teaching was at least good. No argument there. But it was the rational that interested me. She said that many children don’t engage in lessons and often truant because the teaching isn’t good enough. I don’t agree.

At school a lot of my lessons were very ropey, some bordered on abuse by the teachers but I didn’t EVER truant, fail to turn up or stop working. I wasn’t the hardest working child in the school but I always did what I need to do to get to the next stage. Why? In built resilience? Huge determination to succeed? A family who would tan my hide if I didn’t behave? Nope (well, a bit of the last one to be fair…). I worked because I knew that I had to if I wanted to do the next step. I had no career plan at all and no help to get one but what I did know was that points make prizes and that if I did what I needed to, despite the quality of teaching, I would have options to play with for a good job. There was always an end goal in sight.

Many of the children in the Tees Valley do not have that outlook. They hear about unemployment and may be surrounded by it at home. School has become a meaningless run of tests and exams with no relevance outside of its four walls. They aren’t my words, they are what I am told by TEACHERS, lots of them at all key stages (except EYFS where the whole child is still a key principle).

By engaging with the wider world, seeing the relevance of what they are learning (don’t get me started on KS2 Reading and SPAG though!) with a reason to pass the exams they will see a future for themselves. And that is why we run our events in the way that we do, creative, rigorous, all age and authentic through interaction with a range of local companies.

There are still places left on some of the dates if you didn’t know about this and wanted to come (24th May, 17th June, 4th July and 8th July) because unfortunately some schools still regard this sort of things as getting in the way of learning what a subjunctive is…

 

Lull before the Storm

Many people think that we shut down the Centre during the school holidays but nothing could be further from the truth. It is our opportunity to improve the environment and services for customers and develop our program of events and projects for the coming year while it is a bit quiter.This Summer we have been busier than ever.

IMG_6011Our refurbishment plans are well underway but will sadly drag on into September; if we ran a school the way that some businesses seem to work then we would be sacked within weeks;

‘Oh sorry Mrs Scoggins but your child won’t achieve basic literacy and numeracy levels for three weeks longer than we told you last week when you enrolled him; supplier let us down…”

However, that is but a minor irritation.The real task has been setting up of the work that we do on a day to day basis. Yes we have the best conference centre in the area…and we are improving it further….but the work that we do for the schools that fund us or use us is set to expand immensely.

As previous posts reveal, a lot of the events and projects that we run from here have become increasingly concerned with the purpose of education. Our belief is that qualifications are important, show me a school that is not taking that seriously, but we aim to support the wider aim of education. Namely we are developing students awareness of what careers they could have, how they could enter those careers and how to develop their skills and become effective lifelong learners. Last year we began that mission in earnest with strategies like: STEM days where students of different ages came to experience hands on workshops with real people from real industries; Challenge Days where students had to work on time limited challenges in their own classrooms, organising their workload, team roles and so on; and connecting schools with industry and business on request to fit with curriculum needs.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.24.16These were hugely successful, we had over 3000 children involved in one way or another and the feedback from teachers has been outstanding. But all I see when I look at ‘3000 children involved’ is ‘what about the others?’ Being a proactive sort of bloke I am aiming to change that dramatically this year. My Summer has been filled with meetings and planning sessions to enable me to put in front of local schools a detailed menu of events (usually free), projects (usually free) and link ups with local industry outreach so that employability skills become high on every educator’s agenda. Last week saw the news that Ernst and Young, a huge company and attractive destination for a career, are not bothering to even look at the qualifications of people who apply to work there. They will be judged on their CV, application letter and in house aptitude tests. In the last week alone there have been several articles suggesting that the ‘academic route’ based on exam performance leads to a false belief that a degree gives a great chance of highly paid career. Two reports, one from the CIPD and the other from the EDGE Foundation, both suggest that this is simply not the case and that university leavers are simply too numerous in terms of the highly paid jobs market.

And yet we hear constantly that there is a huge skills gap, especially in the more technical jobs that current students could be aiming to fill. Big problem, so what is little old Inspire2Learn going to do?

Well it has become abundantly clear to me by addressing this problem over the last 12 months that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who all agree that this is a problem and that we need to do something about it. The problem as I see it is that there is one group doing something in one place, somebody doing a bit of something in another, a company offering Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.26.11outreach in a different place and so on. There is NO cohesion. My many meetings have been an attempt to pull some of those strands together so that schools can get a clear idea of what is out there and industry have a simple way of making sure that their offers to schools of placements, site visits, outreach work and so actually gets heard by the right people. I’d be astonished to find a school who doesn’t have any eye on preparing their students for their future beyond a set of test certificates but it strikes me that each school is replicating the work that others have done when it could easily be laid on a plate for them to choose from. That is my task.
We also need to be mindful of the industries and businesses who get involved with outreach work. Most are very happy to do so. They see it as giving something back, helping prepare their potential future employees and many have also told me it is good for their staff morale and ethos too. By collating all the wonderful opportunities into one place we can potentially also avoid the situation where one school gets ‘all the good stuff’ because they maybe have someone with more time to spend on organising it, or whatever.

There is also another side to this too. I have spent much of the Summer reading and analysing many of the reports and IMG_6004studies that have been written in recent years pertaining to what ’employability skills’ look like. By conducting a cross study analysis several skills, experiences and attitudes are emerging as key themes. These define what a school leaver would ideally be like to prepare them for the world of work at the age of say sixteen. The image on the right shows my work in progress. I must admit, I would be hard pressed to say that I excel in all of those areas myself, but they are the aspiration and different statements are more heavily weighted to differentpotential employment. But as a teacher it immediately makes me think:

‘If that is what they need to be like at 16, what do we need to do at 15, 14, 11, 9, 5? Where does it start and how does it progress?’

Schools take the same approach to any subject that they want students to achieve at. They look at the outcome and they plan a program of study to achieve it. And before I get shot down by the ‘we don’t have time, OfSTED won’t judge us on it’ I would like to point out that many of the statements that have emerged are actually already part of the wider curriculum, often in several subjects. Many of the more work specific ones ‘able to conduct a formal conversation on a telephone’ are rarely taught in any school that I know of but feature highly in some of the projects that we will be running from the centre (Junior Engineer Project for example where students have to phone a company to negotiate for materials – the company has offered to make somebody available as part of their outreach offer’). These projects and events are usually one off days, or run over a half term for a specific group of students, they are not massively time consuming and the overall benefits for motivation and engagement are huge. Under the new OfSTED framework inspectors will also be very attentive to what schools are delivering in terms of the wider curriculum and how schools are making their provision fit the local needs of our students. Last time I looked unemployment seemed to be a pretty high priority locally…

One off days are great, but they are one offs, hardly conducive to developing skills. But imagine a world:

Every year from Reception onwards little Billy takes part in a time limited, team based challenge for one day, three times a year, his work is published on the internet. As he gets older he is involved in a range of events such as a one off event working with an engineer building bridges (Connor Lishmann from Cleveland Bridge does some fantastic work with our students), maybe in Y5 he does the Fiver Challenge (supported locally by Young Enterprise) and maybe in Y6 potentially a site visit to SSI Steel. In Y7 he is part of a team in the Mindstorms Lego League Challenge, presenting his ideas to a large audience. In Y8 maybe a guided visit around Teesport; each year he gets involved in another event or two, building up his awareness of possible careers, his understanding of appropriate behaviours in professional contexts and his skill set through lots of pertinent activities.

DSC_0501This raises his realistic aspirations to a career in an area that interests him, creating the motivation that might just get a bit more homework or revision done because there is a bigger picture now more clear for him. All of these events and projects ensure that he is getting to meet people who actually do that job, maybe people who were just like him when they were his age.

Our full offer for schools (and any business that would love to get involved) will be posted soon on the Events page on this site. Redcar and Cleveland schools get first refusal and pretty much everything for no charge on most of the offer because they fund this centre. Previously only teachers from other Local Authorities have used the centre for courses and events but we want to now extend that offer to students as well where space allows. We live in the Tees Valley and political boundaries should not be a barrier to creating a better region for all of us to live and work in, especially in light of the  impending creation of a ‘combined authority’.

If you are a school or a business in the area and want to join in with this then please contact me: astogdale@lea.rac.sch.uk

Sermon over!

Getting better all the time

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We always ask companies who use our meeting rooms if they would give us some feedback because we always aim to give the best service possible. This quote came out of the blue a few weeks ago but we are particularly proud of it because we know that our customer first approach, combined with state of the art facilities, are second to none. We aren’t a hotel that does conferences; we aren’t an old school building that can be hired out; we are a bespoke centre built for meetings and training. Funded by schools in the area for their own training and event needs, the facility is used extensively by companies large and small when they need a professional environment in which to train staff, meet clients or host events. We have rooms of different sizes for different purposes all the way up to the auditorium which can comfortably hold 120 delegates cabaret style or even 180 theatre style. Such numbers can pose a problem for many venues but we have a FREE onsite car park covered by CCTV that can hold far more cars than we have chairs!Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 14.22.45

Catering can be provided in-house (feedback has been exceptional for this) or through local hospitality companies who we work closely with.

Each room has projection facilities, flip charts, and a computer and we pride ourselves on having our own network manager to ensure that technical difficulties do not get in the way of why you have booked at the centre. 100Mb wifi is free to users of the centre, in fact we don’t charge any extras for use of the sort of facilities that we would expect to see in a meeting/conference room. Some of our staff are experienced trainers themselves, delivering courses and keynotes across the UK and beyond. They know what it is like to turn up to a venue, what the needs of the trainers are and the needs of the delegates. That experience forms the backbone of our service.

Alongside flexible meeting rooms we also have two newly refurbished IT suites with 25 PCs in each. The rooms can even be opened up to provide a giant IT suite for 50 when required. The usual business software packages are installed but we also have a range of specialist software that caters for most needs. The suites are bolstered by a trolley of brand new laptops meaning that any room can be a suite when required. Our centre also has a mini suite of 20 iMacs that can be used flexibly in a range of rooms.

The auditorium is a fabulous space that is used for everything from large scale conferences (often using our meeting rooms for ‘breakout’), as an exhibition space, to the R&C Council Chamber for 18 months! It has a range of seating plans, staging (including light rig systems) and even studio recording options that can be streamed to a live web channel. The new vinyl flooring has created opportunity for a much wider range of activities than previously with fitness groups and a local Church already taking advantage of it. We have just developed new daily and half-day rates for all of our room charges to give better value to the way that our customers like to use the centre.

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The centre is run for NO PROFIT, any money made simply keeps the place running and up to date. Any money made over and above this is returned to schools for the benefit of the students. By booking at Inspire2Learn you are helping local children’s education which we hope makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact many of the businesses that book here also get involved with our schools to help with events aimed at preparing our youngsters for the world of work that they will be growing into. If you would like to support this important aspect of our work (and who wouldn’t?), please get in touch.