Education: From the classroom to the boardroom

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The Independent Online
IN 1994 Clay Cross County Infants School, in Derbyshire, needed a new trolley for carrying technology equipment from classroom to classroom. The whole process - placing the order, dealing with invoices and manufacturing special components for this trolley - became a classroom exercise for a group of pupils. They visited the factory, saw each stage of the process, travelled back with the trolley and helped to unload it at the school.

This started Clay Cross's connection with Heron Educational Ltd, a manufacturer of educational equipment, based eight miles away in Chesterfield. In 1997 a two-year partnership began between the teachers and Nancy Wibberley, Commercial Director at Heron, who had by that time become a governor at the school. It involved the Year 1 group of five-year-olds in developing a range of two-dimensional four-foot high panels with facades of High Street shops and businesses, designed for role playing.

The children used reference books, photographs, jigsaws and brainstormed design ideas. These included drawings of facades and the inside counters or reception desks at banks, shops, travel agents, doctors' surgeries, hospitals and even an old-style telephone box. The class then converted the chosen designs into small models made of cardboard on wood frames decorated with felt-tip drawings, fabric and tissue paper.

Staff at Heron chose the best models and manufactured prototype panels including a telephone box, a hairdressing saloon, a fish and chip shop and a sweet shop. They talked to the children about the manufacturing costs and involved them in ideas for the marketing programme. The children tested the prototypes and made suggestions. One good idea was to insert a small blackboard into the top of each model so the children could chalk in the name and type of shop.

Heron marketed the educational panels and advertised them in their catalogue. They are now selling on the general market. Their success has encouraged the two 'partners' to get together to work on materials for teaching practical mathematics to a whole class of 30 children rather than splitting them into groups. The project is being partly sponsored by National Power as part of its Numeracy Project.

By working closely with the school, Heron Educational ensured that it had a commercially viable product which would appeal to young children. The business also gained an inside understanding of the workings of a school, which is leading to ideas for new products.

Through North Derbyshire Business-Education Partnerships, which inspires links between schools and businesses, Clay Cross Infants School has now developed a wide range of business links with national names such as Railtrack, British Telecom and WH Smith. The school has become a byword locally for having good links with industry. Its well-equipped adventure playground will provide a long lasting testament to the fruits of these business partnerships long after its first technological trolley has been consigned to the scrap-heap.