Pupils find big business child's play: Lesley Gerard learns about a pioneering primary school careers class sponsored by Grand Met

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Kapow] Nine-year-olds are having lessons about the joys of work courtesy of the multi-national food company Grand Metropolitan. The John Keeble primary school in Brent has been chosen for a 12-month experiment to teach careers awareness.

Kapow - Kids and the Power of Work - is an idea from the United States with a 'catch them when they're young philosophy. If it works in the north London Church of England school, Grand Met plans to introduce it in other primary schools.

Rick Fallon, director of community affairs for Grand Met USA, said: 'We train volunteers from Grand Met companies to go into the schools once a month. The main objectives are to teach them about the world of work, get them thinking about the variety of careers there are and to help them relate the skills they are taught in class to those they might need in a job.

'We were amazed by their enthusiasm. It is not about putting pressure on children, but broadening their horizons.' Kapow was launched in the United States four years ago by Grand Met. It now operates in 28 schools.

The food and drink conglomorate was put in touch with the Brent Education Authority through the London-based charity Cities in Schools.

Officials and teachers were sceptical at first, aware that Grand Met owned Burger King, Hagen Daz ice cream, Green Giant and Pillsbury. 'We thought it sounded interesting but we were worried it might be a publicity stunt or some attempt to push Burger King burgers at our school kids, said Paul Dockerty, of the education department. Chris Swan, head of John Keeble school, said: 'I told them I would not have one pencil or biro with Burger King on the side.'

When officials saw the teaching packs their fears subsided. The company flew a member of staff over from New York to visit the school. It paid for two supply teachers for two days while two permanent staff, Morag Blair and Linda Sweeting, were given Kapow training.

Mrs Swan was harder to convince. She studied the national curriculum to establish whether careers awareness could be taught. 'We decided its agenda, with the development of listening and communication skills, letter writing, was compatible with the English and geography curriculum.' She spent the first lesson observing the volunteers, Tim Coleman, the human resources director for Grand Met Trust, and Denice Kronau, the internal audit director, working with her pupils. 'I was still very sceptical - I was thinking 'prove it'.'

'It was only when I was in the corridor eavesdropping on the children's reaction that I was won over. There was such a buzz among the pupils, their eyes were full of excitement and enthusiasm. They were like little sponges soaking everything up.'

The literature accompanying the scheme says: 'Young people need to be motivated towards seeing work as a viable and positive option for their own futures. Such an effort cannot succeed if it waits until high (secondary) school. Rather it needs to be an ongoing process that begins when children are young, curious and open to the world around them.'

Grand Met's four volunteers have spent two days teaching on site. They first explained their roles in the company and then invited the children to think about jobs. Pupils are told they can become whatever they want if they work towards it, gently driving home that racial and sexual bias and stereotyping is negative and wrong. The course allows for unemployed

parents.

'If they say being a mummy or a daddy or a grandma is a job, we think that's a good answer too,' said instructor Jane Spurgeon. 'We started talking about what classroom skills can be developed for specific jobs - how does writing help if you want to be a pop star. The next phase was an office visit, when the 44 members of Class 5 went for work experience.

Mr Fallon said the scheme had benefits for the company. Claire Hitchock, employee volunteering manager for Grand Met and a volunteer at Brent, said: 'Explaining your job to children means you have to be very clear, avoid jargon and clarify your own thoughts. We've found it has improved our communication skills too, which is no bad thing.'

Mr Fallon said it also was an eye-opener for staff. 'Some used to be very critical of teachers and blamed them for poor educational standards. After time in the classroom they realise the pressures teachers work under.'

(Photograph omitted)

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