What is this project trying to do? On one level it is all about widening participation, encouraging people in the community to get involved in education through a “project-based learning approach”. On another level, it is about bringing employers, especially small local businesses, closer to the world of education and training by engaging them in the design and delivery of training.
In this sense project-based learning becomes a tool to further industry relevance; it offers businesses the opportunity not only to influence systems and processes in education, but also to work with students on projects which are directly relevant to them. PLACE21 is, as its name signifies, a “Project-based Learning Approach to Community & Employment in the 21st Century.”
A selection of projects from the three strands of PLACE 21
- One student has been employed by the project to explore PLACE21 from a participant’s perspective. Aaron Howlett has been studying at the college for several years. He has some special educational needs, as a person on the autistic spectrum. Aaron is very bright and is in his second year of a business degree. He works for the project one day a week and this case study (attached – Annex 1) offers his insights into the project. It is hoped that working with Aaron over the next year will enable him to develop key career skills that he can then use in mainstream employment. We expect Aaron to be offered full time employment by the time he completes this work experience with us in October 2019.
- Full length TV production involving students in the writing, editing, casting, filming and directing. The aim is to involve staff and students across the whole of the college and local business/individuals working in the creative sector. Collaboration is key throughout (students/educators/business).
- Sudbury Town Initiative – students are working with local businesses and the town centre manager to transform Sudbury Town Centre. Students are gaining valuable skills and interacting with businesses.
- Building Growth – supporting two students at the world skills event in Birmingham. One of the students won the Gold award and is now looking to progress onto a degree in Interior Design. The other student is now a Worldskills Ambassador who has been offered a three year scholarship in France which will give him the opportunity to study his craft at degree level and become a Master Craftsman for Joinery (Only 5 students in Europe have been offered this opportunity this year).
- AB Performance – a micro business (and former Dragons Den winner!) is working with automotive students to show them how car mechanics works at the high end of performance. In January the students will begin building an AB Performance car under the company’s direction.
- Aspire – students struggling to cope with the pressure of college and life in general were brought together for a motivational residential trip. This is something they very much enjoyed and early signs are that they have improved their performance at college and are more engaged – but we will continue to monitor progress and return to this in future updates.
- Community research – working with Dr. Rob Loe from Relational Schools we conducting research into the progress students are making on many of these PLACE21 programmes. Progress reports will available later in 2018.
- Creating a workbook to encourage classroom/ work experience convergence. In addition to our EPQ pilot work we have also invested in a Level 3 workbook (see attached – Annex 2). This is intended to stretch and challenge students and fits into the project-based learning philosophy. We hope to have more than 100 students trying out the workbook in the coming year. Meanwhile we are working with NCFE to have it accredited as a customised Level 3 qualification.
- EPQ – the extended project qualification is being offered to a small pilot group in 2017 and will be rolled out more widely in 2018. We are planning a “Wonders of West Suffolk College” event in May 2018 to celebrate EPQ achievements.
- Thetford Business Forum – a key initiative under the working with SME strand of the project, this idea is about bringing businesses closer to the ‘training table’ as well as providing key engagement opportunities for students. We will be identifying gaps in training in existing workforces; talking to businesses about the most appropriate qualifications and training content for students; Identifying future workforce needs; developing a new way of undertaking careers events; piloting a careers showcase at West Suffolk College in association with the Thetford Business Forum in March 2018.
- We are in the process of agreeing a supported living learning resource for special educational needs students. The idea is to create a home environment (like a flat, with kitchen) in the college where students can explore independent living in a safe environment. We expect to report on progress with this initiative early in the new year.
Differentiation between the three projects
- Place21 (a) is a subset of the project and is concerned with the provision of training to people/students employed mostly (but not exclusively) in SMEs and micro businesses. Learners at Level 2, 3 and 4 are most likely to benefit from this strand. It will provide them with enhanced work experience opportunities and allow them to gain an extra qualification such as an EPQ.
- Place21 (b) is a subset of the project and is concerned with the engagement of SME and micro business employers, encouraging them to become involved in the design and development of training systems that are industry relevant. This strand will allow us to develop and deploy a comprehensive CRM which will capture SME interactions, student placements, extended project topics and sectoral relevance. This provides an ideal opportunity to build up a multi-layered database, which will help inform future policy decisions. Students participating in Place21(a) (above) will have most to gain from the work in this strand, which will bring businesses closer to the ‘training table’ and involve them in extended project choices and content.
- Place21 (c) is the final subset of the project and is concerned with support for people/students furthest from the labour market. In this initiative, we will be working with people facing multiple barriers to labour market entry. At the main campus in Bury St Edmunds and through our learning centres located in deprived areas across West Suffolk, we will provide a range of discrete joined up services which will develop skills, build confidence and lead to transformation in their life chances. Beneficiaries will be offered ‘wrap around’ support with clearly identified progression opportunities to mainstream courses and work opportunities. To demonstrate the two way community approach, we anticipate Level 1 students learning construction skills, (for example) at the Milburn Centre getting involved in this strand, supporting community projects by providing resource and materials to repair and/or repaint community buildings. In a similar way, Level 1 healthcare students could undertake community engagement projects working with care providers to support the elderly. There are many other possibilities. PLACE21 is about supporting unemployed people in the community who have multiple needs and barriers to participation in the labour market. It will help them to gain new skills and sustainable employment.