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Academy teaching real business lessons to Doncaster school pupils

Catherine Matthews, Doncaster Chamber Business and Education Advisor, pictured with year 11 pupils at Trinity Academy. Picture: NDFP Skills Academy MC 1 'Picture:  Marie Caley
Catherine Matthews, Doncaster Chamber Business and Education Advisor, pictured with year 11 pupils at Trinity Academy. Picture: NDFP Skills Academy MC 1 'Picture: Marie Caley

She was an 18-year-old Doncaster woman just out of school.

Cat Matthews had started university - but after having arrived she started to feel that it was not for her.

After six months, she decided she had made the wrong decision. She left.

Instead, she found herself in her first job, and carved a successful career as an estate agent.

From there, she went on to work for Doncaster Chamber. And after arriving at that job, she decided to draw on her own experience to help youngsters in schools across Doncaster to become better equipped for the world of work or further education when they leave school, by setting up Doncaster Skills Academy.

Now the scheme has signed up dozens of businesses from Doncaster to go into schools to explain to pupils about the world of work, in a way which Cat feels may have helped her when she left sixth form for university.

She said: "Looking back, I don't think I got the right guidance at school. We want to help improve that for today's school children.

"This year we are going into 17 secondary schools in Doncaster. We've already been to about 15."

Among those this week were Trinity Academy in Thorne. A total of 213 pupils at the school were each given a full day of help with someone from a local business or similar organisation. Wabtec, Solutions 4 Cleaning, Keepmoat Homes, Taylor Bracewell and Fortem all took part, along with Doncaster College and University of Law.

They all ran sessions with year 10 pupils - youngsters who could be leaving school this time next year.

During those sessions they ran activities and explained a few truths about the world of work.

For instance, they explained how CVs work, and explained why it was worth following up job interviews with a phone call or email.

They also explain some of the opportunities that are available in Doncaster, and some of the big projects which are in the pipeline in the borough. They often find youngsters don't know about plans such as the proposed film studio at High Melton.

And youngsters get a taste of business by playing a Dragon's Den style game, where they get to pitch a business idea. They idea is to boost confidence and presentation skills.

"We do mock interviews as well," said Cat. "Most of them will never have done an interview before. Job interviews are nerve wracking, and that doesn't get easier, but we can at least help show them what to expect, and show them what do do before hand and afterwards."

Teacher Mark Furness, head of business and computing at Trinity, is pleased to have the people from the world of business in the school, and feels it is a big help for the schools.

He said while he and other teachers could stress the importance of such simple elements as arriving on time and not being late, the impact of important people in the business world telling them that as well was much greater on the youngsters.

He said: "At the start of the sessions, they ask the youngsters who wants to leave Doncaster and if they thought they could do what they want to here. May say they want to leave.

"They explain to them some of the big schemes and projects that are going on, which they don't know about. After that, the number is much less."

Matthew Lawrie, from Keepmoat Homes, was among those from the world of business taking part at Thorne. He said: "We ask that simple question at the start of the sessions - who wants to leave Doncaster? Those who put their hands up are often doing so because they don't know of the opportunities that are available. After they have heard what is actually available in Doncaster many start to change their minds. I've had people come up to me and ask if they can come to us for work experience after these sessions."

Sam Kerley, who runs Solutions for Cleaning, was also taking part. She has been involved in the Skills Academy scheme for three years.

She said: "I first got involved after being approached by Doncaster Chamber to attend an event about children's aspirations in Doncaster. But what we are doing now is much more advanced. It's been a big learning curve in terms of what was needed.

"A lot of what we do has come as a result of feedback from students, and where the gaps are between education and employment.

"I feel that I can help raise the student's aspirations by taking part in the Skills Academy. It is one thing to identify issues, but unless you get involved, nothing will change, and that is why I got involved. I would like to think we have an effect."