Youngsters on track for bright futures with Virgin

Edge’s relationship with the Academies of Nashville began some time ago. Our former Director of Policy and Research, David Harbourne, returned from a transatlantic trip full of enthusiasm about a learning model which had demonstrably changed the aspirations, expectations and achievements of young people in the city in just a decade.

The concept of making learning relevant to the world of work, sits intrinsically alongside Edge’s belief that every child should have the opportunity to make the most of their talents and fulfil their potential.

As all teachers know, the key to helping children learn is engagement and incentive. For many young people, finding a purpose and application for lessons is an important motivation to learning. The Academies model also recognises that the world we live in now is very different to when our parents went to school or even our grandparents for that matter.

The government’s preferred EBacc suite of subjects matches the 1904 curriculum; a time when women could not be awarded degrees from Oxford or Cambridge and indeed were still denied the right to vote. Surely we need to give young people an education which reflects our technology-driven contemporary society?

So we are all now hugely excited to be working with Ford Next Generation Learning, who developed the Academies model, to bring this innovative and proven approach to learning to the UK. Edge has fantastic partners in the North East of England – the North East LEP, the North East CBI, the North East Collaborative Outreach Programme – and City & Guilds, who are working with us to pilot this in three schools, Excelsior Academy, Norham High School and Churchill Community College.

It was a delight yesterday to see year 3 pupils from the Excelsior Primary School give presentations on a project they’d completed with Virgin Trains. The six week project was framed in the context of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals which aim to end poverty and protect the planet. The children worked with Virgin staff to answer the question, ‘How can we ensure everyone has access to available and sustainable energy?’ in a world where 1.06 billion people live without electricity.

Working in teams, they made solar powered boats, cars, having the opportunity to be creative while learning was linked to vital parts of the curriculum. To understand solar power, they needed to understand light and so they learned about Thomas Eddison. They needed to be able to read instructions to put their models together and recognised that English was critical to, not only understanding, but being able to write and present their thoughts and ideas in the showcase. 

And of course maths. Tasked with building something sustainable whilst still turning a profit for Virgin required a budget; the children recognised that adding up and multiplication were essential tools.

Particularly inspiring in the presentations though, was how these young children – they’re only around eight years old – recognised that there were other skills at play here too. They all acknowledged that they achieved the best results when they listened to each other, worked co-operatively and were resilient to experiments which might not meet their initial expectations.

Key to the success of this project has been the relationship between the school and Virgin managed by Hannah Cummins, Excelsior’s Industry Alignment Manager. Michelle Dickinson, Community Engagement Manager for Virgin Trains East Coast, presented prizes at the event and said all the Virgin staff had enjoyed taking part. It clearly ticks a CSR box for a company which has made underplaying its corporate nature an intrinsic part of its brand.

Inevitably though with business there is a bottom line and investing in your future workforce makes economic sense. Employers constantly tell us that they are looking to recruit young people who can be creative, resilient, solve problems and work in teams, all the things which the eight year olds talked about in their showcase. And of course these are not just skills for the workplace – they are skills for life.

I chatted with the father of one young girl who he said is an elective mute and won’t talk in school. He praised the work of the school and the project – he thought it was brilliant and had given his daughter a great opportunity to participate and make some beautiful work.

What the youngsters from Excelsior Primary demonstrated so succinctly today is that everyone could take something away from this project. Fascinated by the work of Thomas Edison – maybe a history academic or an electrician? Loved making the models – sculptor or designing spacecraft? Enjoyed using the maths – leader of the World Bank or a surveyor? You’re never too young to have dreams and aspirations.