Engaging The Community

Education is not just about school – it is about learning and developing knowledge, skills and capabilities for life and for work. However, beyond the school, the community can be a supportive resource for both teachers and young people. CCEA believes that Education for Employability is not only the responsibility of schools and of teachers but it is also a community responsibility. That is why the employability team has placed such an emphasis, through its pilot activities, on engaging the community with the strap line – Connect for Success.

One model which is being tested in the Coleraine area involves a Steering Group which includes representatives from the Borough Council, Local Enterprise Agency, Chamber of Commerce, the University of Ulster and the Regional College of Further and Higher Education. Through this evolving partnership it is intended that the school curriculum can reflect the local economic priorities. This engagement is a two way process and the different organisations are expected to make a distinctive contribution to the dialogue and to the work in the schools.

Across Northern Ireland Workforce Development Fora are being established to take stock of the skills needs of local areas. The information which will emanate from such bodies should also be used to influence the curriculum being offered in the local schools. That is not to say that any skills shortages should be used to “dictate” what young people study. Nevertheless, informed individual decision-making should at least take account of where potential opportunities for successful employment are and then it is for the individual young people to make up their own minds.

In the other pilot areas – Newry and Mourne, Belfast, Dungannon and Cookstown as well as Coleraine a brokerage system has been established to facilitate the involvement of employers with schools and with the curriculum. Employers visit the schools and talk directly to the pupils. Teachers are given the opportunity to take part in work placements for a short period to gain a greater awareness of the world of work outside the school environment. Year 9 pupils have spent some time in the local Regional Colleges of Further and Higher Education to develop a better understanding, at this early age, of sectors about which the would otherwise be unfamiliar, for example, engineering, construction or media and production. In the Coleraine area teachers will also be involved in what has been termed as “Taste and See” at the University of Ulster. Traditionally pupils have also spent time in the work place through work experience programmes provided by their school. There are other examples of employers sponsoring trophies or other school activities and of course most Boards of Governors include representatives of the wider community.

One of the issues raised during the consultation process on the revised curriculum was that pupils wish to see greater relevance to what they were studying in school. Engaging meaningfully with the community is one approach to enhancing the relevance of the school curriculum.

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