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Teacher Encounters – Driving positive change in the conversation between education and business

21 Nov 2023

Nick is assistant principal at Garth Hill College in Berkshire, and Careers Leader. His school recently took part in the Teacher Encounters programme. We sat down to talk to him about the experience and the impact it has had on the teachers, school and students.

Question: What impact has the teacher encounters programme had on the teachers who took part?

Nick: We were really excited when the teacher encounters offer first came up and it has had an amazing impact on the teachers who have been through the programme.

They were all in the science department, and they were quite good in terms of their careers materials -  flagging it in and around corridors, displays, tying it to pieces of work.

But the teacher encounters programme has been transformational. The science department now has a careers intervention point in every scheme of work – so they connected their whole curriculum into the real world. Seeing their colleagues go through the programme has been inspirational for the whole department. It has reenergized them through the experience they have had. When they come back there’s a real buzz and they’re talking about it around the department.

For one of the teachers who went through the programme, it’s had an additional professional impact. There were a couple of internal positions that came up last year and he’s had the confidence to apply and now become a head of subject and STEM lead in the area. He’s also taken the lead on a couple of whole year group and whole school projects - and a lot of that has come from the way that the programme inspired him.

I know he appreciated the time and space to have a look at real world applications and then come back and bring them into the classroom. It gave him time and space to really think about things, so a lot of benefit in terms of that personal development and the CPD.

Question: Which employers do you work with and what sort of things do you do?

Nick: Our programme was with Berkeley Homes and Thames Water. We are looking to build greater synergy between employers and the school - bringing them more directly into the classroom and doing field trip types of work. It’s a really valuable connection to build, because that’s something we lost a lot of during the pandemic years.

Building those connections up again is really important. Taking tutor groups out to places of work, onto business premises for a day, and literally seeing how the company operates. It’s of huge benefit being in the right kind of environment and then having people from the world of work structure the tasks for the students. It’s different when you have somebody who’s from an outside environment pushing the same kind of messages. And the really good thing has been when companies have involved their own apprentices and younger employers, that’s worked really well.

Question: So when you first heard about the teacher encounters programme, what is it that sparked your interest in it, because releasing teachers from school, given all the pressures that they’re under, can be a bit of a challenge, what advice would you give to others?

Nick: I think there are probably three key things:

Leadership - You need the desire to make it work, to see the value and go and have those conversations with the right people right through the departments with the senior leaders to make sure you get it all lined up.

Lead time – You need good planning to know what you want to do and being able to project forwards – we were setting things in place and making the connections a while before it actually happened.

Learning – Make it part of teacher’s CPD so you can support from central and departmental CPD budgets. And tap into things like twilights - whole days are more difficult, but half days are easier.

Ultimately, it’s about developing teachers and allowing them to grow holistically and experience a world outside of education. Teachers come from a number of different backgrounds, however, many come through straight from university into teacher training and then straight into schools.

I also think that if you structure it correctly and you get the right people in the right departments, that message then spreads and permeates. They pass on stories – so it’s not just the training or the investment in one person, you’re really investing in the whole department at the same time.

Yes there is a cost, yes they need the support of their colleagues as well, but the benefits are clear. It helps them bring the classroom alive – because the more you can make the connections with the practical use of the skill that you’re demonstrating or the knowledge that you’re gaining, the more inspiring it is for the pupils.

The ultimate application of knowledge is what you’re going to do with it in the world of work and next steps. So the closer you can make that connection, the greater the benefit in terms of student’s education.

Question: Has the teacher encounters programme had an impact on the wider school?

Nick: For sure, because it enriches your teaching. It has an impact on the actual work-based information that goes into lessons which is going to be of benefit in terms of OFSTED.

The science department are now really challenging themselves to push things forward - having that information in lessons that link into a skill in the world of work.

Question: Are teacher encounters something you are looking to build on in your school?

Nick: I would love to push it out through other departments. I think the model in terms of a teacher or departments connected with a business is a very strong. We’re in a phase at the moment of re-energising our business relationships and this type of model is very much one we’re going to try and work on.

It’s fantastic if you can get a day out of school as a teacher to think about something else. It’s very easy to get dragged into the day to day but if you step back a little bit it’s really beneficial.

Having connections between departments and different types of businesses is a win-win because that’ll help with employer encounters for students, business visits, work experience and things like classroom projects designed by employers. It helps bring together a number of things we want to do, connecting our students to careers.

Question: Have the teacher encounters helped improve teacher’s knowledge of different pathways like vocational routes, apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships?

Nick: The changes in recent years, in terms of particularly the apprenticeship route, are amazing – they’ve really blossomed and the connections with businesses that teachers have had in the last year mean they are now far more educated about those types of routes. When I talk to businesses they never cease to amaze me in terms of their innovations they’ve got on the programmes, and what they’re trying to do and how flexible they are, so yes it does help with that.

Question: What has been the impact on the pupils themselves. Has that experience for the teacher led to students becoming more engaged in the subjects and more interested in how they apply to the world outside of school?

Nick: Yes, and to illustrate that we did a cross curricular day for Year 9s involving business volunteers and a business task.

I now have a set of teachers who are confident enough to build, design, deliver the day, and push forwards all the skills. In terms of the students and the impact on them, there is a new vibe and a buzz around those type of days. if you were to interview any of the students about it, you’d be impressed by the skillset they would show you. The confidence they now have to stand up in front of their peers and businesses and deliver their pitch - building that skillset. It is one of my bug bears, when you see feedback coming back from employers saying students don’t have that skill, or that skill. They’re fantastic – I would just like to invite more of them in to come and talk to our pupils and see what they can do.

More businesses are beginning to realise that now. You don’t necessarily need to make a big commitment, and I don’t think many schools will be asking for big commitments. You can work with a teacher for just a few hours on an assignment or a task. If you’re willing to give some input then that could be a huge benefit to your business

We had a great Q&A panel with employers in the summer for year 10 – that’s an hour of your time and a great opportunity to come in and tell your story a little bit, and what you do day to day what’s valued in your world – they’re really powerful those types of interactions and it’s the frequency over time that matters. Quality and frequency make the difference. It’s actually about exposure and putting people in front of people – you’re not going to like everything you see, not every experience is going to be a fantastic one for you, but you’re not going to appreciate the diversity of the world of work that’s out there, and it helps you with making those career decisions.

What is the Teacher Encounters programme?

A teacher encounter provides an opportunity for teachers to engage directly with employers to see and learn about the different career pathways relevant to their subjects, and to observe how their subject is applied practically in business.

Learn more