Westhaven students put on the right road to work

SCHOOL is not only a place for learning your times tables, it is also a place where youngsters grow up and learn how to become part of the adult world.

At Westhaven specialist school that emphasis is at the forefront of all it does as it encourages its pupils, aged seven to 16, to become more independent.

The Uphill school, which helps children with special academic needs, gives pupils in years 10 and 11 two two-week periods of work experience to help with their development in the ‘real’ world.

Wendy Kirk, who co-ordinates the programme, said the four weeks have a massive effect on the pupils by the time they leave after taking their GCSE exams.

A large proportion of schools operate similar schemes across North Somerset, but she believes it has a more profound impact on Westhaven pupils who often have to tackle everyday events for the first time which many people take for granted - such as catching a bus.

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She said: “A lot of the pupils when they come up to their GCSEs aren’t independent and work experience helps them. For some teenagers it is a small step but for these kids it’s massive.”

Pupils have to carry out several tasks while out at their placements, including writing a diary, taking photos around the workplace and evaluating their own performance.

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Three current year 11 pupils, all aged 15, gave a glowing account of their work experience and the impact it had on them.

Katy Groom, who worked with North Somerset Schools Sports Partnership and Uphill Primary School said the experience helped her grow.

She said: “It gave me more confidence, although it was odd being a member of staff.”

Daniel Berney said his time at Tesco and the Grand Pier had given him a buzz and hopes it will allow him to get a part-time job at the supermarket when he turns 16.

He said: “The experience was really amazing and I learnt a lot of skills. I really enjoyed both placements, they built up my confidence.”

And Ryan Summers, who worked in the restaurant at BHS and Marks & Spencer in Weston, said the experience will help him when he needs to get a job in the future.

Ms Kirk, who has helped organise the scheme for about eight years, said the school was grateful for the support it gets from local businesses.

She said: “The scheme has grown every year. We try to keep a good relationship with employers and get some new ones so we are continuing to build for the future all the time.

“We want to thank all the employers for giving up their time to help our students because some of them may need some extra help and we are grateful for what they do for the school.

“The students all come back very enthusiastic, having grown in confidence and the majority of experiences are very positive.”

Headteacher Cate Hill said the work experience programme was a vital part of the school’s curriculum: “We always receive glowing reports from employers, highlighting students’ hard work and enthusiasm. It gives our students a real boost and encourages them to work even harder and they always return to school with a more mature and responsible attitude.”

Bernie Richardson, the deputy headteacher who previously ran the scheme, said: “It has gone from strength to strength. From our school’s point of view it is one thing which is a most important part of the curriculum. It is invaluable.”

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