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How to bring real world learning into college

25 March 2024

At Education Partnership North East (EPNE), we are delighted to have been named a finalist in the Edge Award for Excellence in Real World Learning category, supported by the Edge Foundation.

When judging the entries, assessors looked for initiatives which developed a curriculum which enables learners to have experiences that are real, meaningful, challenging and life changing, as well as demonstrating innovative best practice and excellent engagement with employers and local communities.

In our pursuit of finding innovative ways to ensure students are exposed to real world learning and industry, we developed 'Cultural & Social Capital' as an initiative to explore this further, and to develop the cultural and social capital of students who live in an area of high deprivation.

The project is for creative arts, performance, computing, esports and nextgen students at Sunderland College, and it embraces the ethos of creating opportunities by fostering a whole curriculum area approach. We were already doing great things with external employers, via live briefs and opportunities, but we knew we had to harness our ideas and create a structure that pushed us to be brave and bold with the highest of aspirations for our learners.

The programme currently has six stages.

Stage 1: Induction project based on problem solving in the real world and problem-based learning.

Stage 2: Teacher scheduled activities including preparation for industry inclusion, community projects.

Stage 3: Industry inclusion fortnight with industry experts on site delivering masterclasses, workshops and launching live briefs to staff and students. This is an opportunity for staff to gain industry updates and insights alongside students in an immersive learning experience.

Stage 4: An array of live briefs and commissions.

Stage 5: A EPNE-led employer forum ‘Creating Opportunities with Regional Employers’ (CORE) which supports curriculum design. Employers are exposed to what young people are like, how they think and their contemporary struggles and work with curriculum area leaders to help inform the designing of the curriculum.

Stage 6: A celebration and showcase to industry experts through performance, exhibitions and a digital expo. We utilised opportunities within the project to educate employers on the vast array of life experiences that young people have and what they can offer, and employers were able to interact with students across all subjects.

Throughout the stages, the programme has emphasis on developing social mobility through these experiences. Students are supported, challenged, and nurtured to remove barriers and limitations to their own progression opportunities.

To develop the project further, this academic year we added as seventh stage based on skills competitions. In December we held WorldSkills pressure testing and ran competitions with judges from industry. Not only did this expose learners to competitions, it also prepared them to push themselves and work with others to gain confidence. There is potential scope for an eighth stage to be added in the future.

This initiative has been very faculty led and we really want to inspire other faculties across the group to adopt this same approach or try something similar, pushing innovation and creativity as far as we can.

The programme has had a great impact on the college community, leading to rich engagement with more than 35 employers, and local communities. Our relationships with employers are so strong that organisations come to the college to ask to work with our students based on our reputation in the city. As part of this, students gain knowledge, skills, and behaviours in line with the college’s core values of respect, ambition, authentic and innovation.

Without this project students would not have developed the confidence to participate in these types of real-world activities. If you are wanting to implement something like our project, then just go ahead and do it. Let it evolve into something that is organic within your area that is suitable for your learners and community. Employers have embraced working with us and each year more and more opportunities come our way.

Sheree Rymer is the Faculty Director (Creative, Digital & Computing) at Education Partnership North East.

Find out more about sponsoring an AoC Beacon Award here.