THE head of a project which gets top business people working inside schools to mentor pupils has announced ambitious plans to extend the scheme to every “core city” in the country.
The Make the Grade Programme is only just over a year old but it has already grown from being run in a handful of schools in challenging circumstances in Leeds to now looking to establish itself in the seven other biggest cities outside of London.
It works by partnering businesses and schools giving employees the chance to volunteer to mentor pupils, provide work placements and lead lessons aimed at making young people more entrepreneurial and employable.
It was launched in schools where less than half its pupils achieved five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
The idea is to not only improve the school’s curriculum and help inspire pupils but also to give professional development opportunities for people working in the businesses which get involved.
The project has been led by the not-for-profit organisation the Ahead Partnership, which was set up by former lawyer Stephanie Burras to bring businesses in the city together to tackle social problems in Leeds.
She told the Yorkshire Post she wanted to see the Make the Grade approach working in England’s other core cities: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
There are also plans to set it up in another education authority area in the North of England from next year.
Ms Burras also said that as the programme expanded she would like to have as broad a range of businesses involved as possible to increase the opportunities available to young people.
Each school in the programme has an anchor partner business and other sponsors who support it.
Make the Grade started in 2011 with four Leeds secondaries – Swallow Hill, John Smeaton, Cockburn and the Co-Operative academy in Leeds and their feeder primary schools. Its activities reached more than 2,000 pupils.
This year Carr Manor High, Crawshaw School and Ralph Thoresby School have joined the programme too.
Carr Manor’s anchor partner is legal firm Capsticks, Crawshaw is partnered up with chartered accountant and business advisors Baker Tilly, Asda, Zenith and Kayes Solicitors while Ralph Thoresby School’s anchor partners are Asda and Dickinson Dees.
The retiring head teacher at Ralph Thoresby, Stuart Hemingway, has taken up the role of educational adviser for the Make the Grade initiative.
He said: “Throughout my professional life I have been dedicated to helping young people raise their aspirations and to achieve their potential. Make the Grade does precisely this. By developing sustainable partnerships between schools and businesses it provides young people with the chance to discover more about themselves and the opportunities that are open to them in the future. Also, Make the Grade offers businesses and schools bespoke opportunities to create partnerships tailored around their own individual needs. With such in-built flexibility, the initiative is widely recognised as unique.”
Ms Burras said: “Since launching Make the Grade some 12 months ago we have grown the programme into an effective and attractive vehicle for integrating businesses and schools, for the benefit of pupils. Now, with Stuart’s expertise, we can commence our next phase of development with even more educational clarity. He will work alongside our commercial teams to ensure all that we offer is sharply focused and delivered in the most appropriate and relevant way.”
The work of Make the Grade has also been praised recently by Lord Heseltine in his report into UK competitiveness.
Lord Heseltine said: “Business engagement should be incorporated far deeper into the school curriculum in order to develop young people’s understanding of business, increase their employability, and further their understanding of career and future training options and where they might lead.”
He concludes that the Ahead Partnership is “already facilitating this sort of engagement between schools and employers”.
Ms Burras said: “I am very proud that, in his report, Lord Heseltine chose to feature Make the Grade.
“The programme is gathering real momentum and we are facilitating more and more sustainable partnerships between schools and businesses. The aim is clear – to help students raise their aspirations and learn of more opportunities that are open to them in the world of work.”