St Peter's RC High School was designated a specialist college for business and enterprise in 2006. It belongs to a network of eleven such colleges supported and sponsored by the Co-operative College, an educational charity serving the co-operative sector in the UK and globally.

Business in the Community is a membership organisation for companies that are committed to doing business responsibly in ways that benefit both business and the community. Their belief is that the most effective way for business to support young people facing social disadvantage is to engage in long-term partnerships with the schools those young people attend. Their Business Class initiative has provided a systematic and proven framework for developing those partnerships, rooted in long-term strategic support and collaborative action. Through this scheme, a business is partnered with a single school for a minimum of three years.

The overall aim of the initiative is to bring together businesses and secondary schools in order to build talents and skills in young people, helping them successfully to become part of the workforce.

Two leading firms have worked with St Peter's since 2011 on the Business Class programme.

Pannone, one of the country's leading regional law firms, sees the partnership with St Peter's as an important opportunity to be part of the 'fabric' of the city of Manchester and to share Pannone's values of energy and excellence.

Deloitte offers integrated services throughout the world that include audit, tax, consulting and corporate finance. Their Employability Initiative is a flagship, tried and tested skills and education programme that aims to equip 16-19 year-old further education students with the skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary to secure and sustain employment.

What St Peter's RC High did

A key first step was to mount a joint planning exercise at the school that brought together:

  • the local manager of Business Class;
  • the headteacher;
  • representatives from Pannone and Deloitte;
  • the lead member of staff from the school.

The school and the business partners worked together to complete a specially designed needs assessment tool kit. This enabled the planning team to pinpoint specific challenges facing the school and its students, as well as to identify as clearly as possible exactly how the business partners could provide well-matched support to help remove any barriers to achievement.

As a result of the needs assessment, it was agreed that the school's target group would be Year 11 students. The aim was to equip them with the employability skills required to enter a highly competitive workforce with well-founded confidence and high aspirations.

It was also determined, jointly, that the Deloitte Employability Initiative, although designed for 16-19 year-olds, would form a very good basis for the programme at St Peter's, with some adaptation.

The school took steps to maximise the effectiveness of the planned workshops. In particular:

  • ensuring smooth organisation and securing good quality accommodation, with the necessary three teaching rooms adjacent to each other;
  • timetabling a staff member present in the room throughout each session;
  • making sure technical back-up was to hand to sort out any problems at the start of, and during, each session;
  • communicating the importance of the initiative to all staff, with the head teacher playing a personal role in this;
  • using assemblies and other means to convey to the students concerned the value and importance of the learning opportunity that the initiative represents;
  • setting the tone at the start of the session, with lead and senior staff introducing the volunteer tutors;
  • explaining to the companies the skills and qualities required of the volunteers and reminding the volunteers of some simple 'teaching tips' before they start the sessions.

What Pannone and Deloitte did

Representatives from the two companies worked on adapting the employability programme to ensure it suited the needs of the students. In late 2011, the first workshop - on presentation skills - was delivered to all Year 11 students. This was followed, in spring 2012, by two further workshops on CV/application form writing and on interview skills. The two companies made nine members of staff in total available for each session.

In the summer term 2012, representatives of the two companies met with school lead staff again to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the three sessions. School staff appreciated that the venue for some of the meetings was at company headquarters, not always in school. This helped reinforce the two-way nature of the partnership.

This review process included taking careful account of participant student views, expressed through their evaluation forms. As a result, some modifications and adaptations were made and a second series of workshops was delivered in late 2012 and early 2013. The programme is now in its third year.

A particular focus for review was the impact of the learning materials, including the choices of video clips that provided the stimulus for an activity or for discussion. Changes were made if the materials did not promote a high level of interest and engagement.

Recent discussion with volunteer tutors from Deloitte showed how seriously the company took the partnership with the school, reflecting its commitment to investing in the community as a key company value. This high level of commitment was evident in:

  • the quality of the pack of learning materials that had been put together for the session;
  • the time given to the volunteer tutors prior to the session to familiarise themselves with the materials and to plan how they would deliver the session as a pair;
  • the clarity of the written briefing provided for the tutors and the emphasis placed on their role as ambassadors for the company in terms of its reputation and image.

How did the sessions operate?

The most recent session (February 2014), dealing with interview skills, illustrates the typical pattern and quality of the workshops.

On this occasion, six volunteer tutors from Deloitte worked in pairs. Year 11 students were then taught in six groups, each of around thirty, for a two-hour session. Each pair of tutors delivered the session twice, with a short break between the two sessions, so that the whole of the Year 11 student cohort was covered over the course of a full morning.

The session began with an opportunity for the Year 11 students to voice their worries regarding job or college interviews, recording them on post-its. Right at the end of the session, the tutors returned to these to review how well the materials and activities had dealt with the concerns and helped allay them. This typified the clear sense of direction and purpose that had been built in to the planning of a sequence of learning.

A number of features were memorable in the session, including:

  • the confidence and energy of the volunteer tutors;
  • their resilience in handling minor glitches on the technical front, with the prompt help of the school's back-up staff;
  • the effectiveness with which they drew on their own, often very recent, experience, of job interviews to bring learning points to life;
  • the intuitive way in which they gauged the students' responses and adapted the pace of the teaching accordingly - for instance, sensing that a point had been made sufficiently well and moving onto the next activity;
  • the overall good time management that meant the sessions moved at the right pace, made the necessary learning points and ended on time;
  • the well-chosen video clips of just the right length that were very effective in promoting reflection and discussion.

The students responded well to the session. This included remaining on task when asked to work in pairs or small groups. They were particularly interested in the tutors' working lives and wanted to know just how they had got their jobs at Deloitte and how their career had developed over time.

When one tutor explained that her partner tutor for the session had joined the company at age eighteen straight after college, was now on a year's well-paid company placement and was going to be sponsored through university, the Year 11 students showed palpable interest. In another instance, a tutor explained graphically how she had 'cut things too fine' and only arrived with minutes to spare for her initial job interview at Deloitte; the message was a powerful one.

Being taught by the volunteer tutors was different for the Year 11 students. As one student put it, "Our teachers are great and we are like a family but these people are up-to-date and they tell you what it's like from the inside."

What were the factors that made for success?

A number of factors underpin the success of the initiative; some have already been alluded to. Amongst the most important elements are:

  • the quality of joint planning for the initiative at a high level, for instance with the headteacher's involvement;
  • the energy of the volunteer tutors and the role models they are able to provide;
  • the quality of organisation, learning materials and communications;
  • the attention to evaluation and review, so that the materials and approaches remain well-matched to the students' needs, interests and experiences.

The outcome and impact

For St Peter's students:

  • St Peter's students valued the real-life nature of the workshop sessions. They appreciated working with people who 'looked the part' and really knew what they were talking about, based on first-hand experience in a business career.
  • They valued the skills of the tutors in introducing key skills in a very easy, enjoyable and 'different' way to understand.
  • They found the tutors friendly and entertaining, as well as skilled in their interactions with the students.
  • They were inspired by the role models provided. Many of the tutors were able to draw on their own experiences and sometimes local backgrounds, thus conveying the message that, "This is for you", and something that you can achieve.
  • Students readily grasped key messages and learning points - the importance of tailoring your CV, application letter or interview approach quite specifically to a particular company, for instance, rather than from a general perspective.
  • They valued the clear, unequivocal feedback and advice they received from the tutors - "They don't sugar-coat anything."
  • They reported that their confidence levels had been raised because they had been given access to really useful information and gained worthwhile insights and skills within the areas covered.

For Pannone and Deloitte:

  • The companies reported that their volunteer members of staff who acted as tutors had really valued the opportunity to develop their own skills and to make a real difference to young people.
  • Discussion with the volunteer tutors from Deloitte at the session in February 2014 indicated that they had felt well briefed and well supported by high quality learning materials. Their initial worry was around how successfully they might be able to engage the students. In the event, this had not been a problem and the presence of a member of school staff in the room for the full session had been reassuring. The volunteers were keen to take part again.
  • Deloitte take careful steps to gather feedback from the volunteer tutors. They ask them to evaluate both gains in knowledge and understanding and increases in key skill levels, particularly in terms of team working, problem-solving, presentation and communication skills and time management.
  • Both businesses wish to continue working with the school.

Where Next?

Partnership and team work do not develop in a vacuum. Working together on practical tasks to deliver the employability initiative has been the key to strengthening and enriching the professional relationships between the school and both employers.

One of the two partners - Deloitte - has subsequently approached the school to work with them to deliver a reading programme for younger students. The company saw this as an important way of widening their involvement with the school, working with a wider age range of students and developing engagement in the school's careers education programme. They have recruited some volunteers from their staff and the programme is due to begin in March 2014. The company has also asked St Peter's to provide some young leaders to work with them on their community day in May 2014 to support disability sports. Some twenty Year 9 students will be involved.