Hundreds of school students from across Mansfield and Ashfield have decided to take a step out of mainstream education to try out a ‘revolutionary’ way of learning.
Vision Studio School, on Chesterfield Road South, Mansfield, aims to “bridge the gap between education and employment” for pupils ages 14 to 19 by giving them regular work experience and specialist lessons, alongside their GCSEs.
The school, which opened in September 2014, is the only one of its kind in Nottingamshire and one of only 39 studio schools in the country.
Students are allowed to specialise in either engineering or health and social care, through project-based classroom learning and weekly long-term work placements – as well as studying for core GCSE subjects.
Emmet Bunting, assistant principal. said the school is doing this because there are sometimes gaps in the skills students have which might make them employable, skills which can only be learned by going out and getting real-life experience.
He said: “Employers tell us there is a ticking time bomb of skill shortages.
“And unless we do something to develop the skills and expertise of young people in the area, then skills will be lost.
“If we don’t bridge the gap, the education system is just going to create a generation of students who are exceptionally well qualified, but without the employability skills to make an effective transition into the workplace.
“Our key feature is making sure they get meaningful work placements while they are studying.
“That way they can get the grounding, theory and practical side of things from school, as well as that additional working element.
“It can really translate what they learn in the classroom directly into the work environment.
“We are not doing this to close any doors, but to allow students to pursue their interests – if they’re interested in the health and care or engineering sectors, we have a curriculum that allows them to do that.”
The school currently has 208 students from Years 10 to 13, and has more than 100 employer partners in the Mansfield and Ashfield areas ranging from small and medium-sizes businesses to major organisations and charities.
But even though the school is striving to be the best it can, Mr Bunting said it is not a competition.
He said: “We do not compete with other schools in the area because we are not the same.
“And it’s great that students have got a choice to come here because what we do is very different.”
Sian Parsons, aged 16, from Church Warsop, studies level three health and social care at the school.
Sian said she chose a slightly less mainstream education because the size of the classes meant it was a more “personal experience”.
She said: “I really like it, because I know I can always talk to a teacher if I need anything. And the work placement is great because it has already shown me one area of social care I can go into.”
Sian does a placement working with children at Shaping Futures nursery, based in Warsop, one day a week.
She said: “What I’m doing there varies from week to week, so I get to have a go at all sorts.
“I will read books, play with children and help the staff with certain tasks.
“And it’s nice to know I’ve got the additional support from staff on the placement and they will help me however they can.”
Stacey Williams, area manager at the Mansfield-based nursery group, said they do all they can to support the students on placement to make sure they are learning while they are there.
She said: “It’s nice to know that they can pick up the skills that will make them more employable.”
Kenny Packman, aged 17, from Mansfield Woodhouse, is studying for a BTEC level two in engineering electronics and computer control technologies.
He has completed a placement at National Tyres and is now at AFH1 Engineers – where he has been offered an apprenticeship for when he finishes school.
Kenny said: “The placements have allowed me to do lots of different jobs and the school has also helped me out a lot.
“The engineering teachers can always help if I get stuck on something and they even lent me my first pair of boots for my placement.
“It has gone from a placement to an apprenticeship and possibly to a job.”
Kenny praised the school and said that if he would not have tried it out, he would “still be at home doing nothing”.
He said: “The school is ace because it has helped me get the apprenticeship.
“I wanted something different for myself – I don’t like doing what everyone else does.
“And getting the chance to work in the environment helped me to confirm what I want for my future.
“I took out a gearbox on my first day at AFH1 and as soon as I did it I knew it’s what I want to do.”
Martin Brackenbury, managing director at AFH1, said that doing placements helps the students to gain essential skills.
He said: “It is bridging that gap between education and school and so it’s not a massive shock to the system when people start working.”
The new principal of the school has also unveiled his vision to develop the school.
Chris Hatherall, who took over the reins in March, has vowed to make the school a “centre of excellence” in preparing youngsters for the world of work.
The 41-year-old, who follows in the footsteps of interim principal Heather Scott, joined from Wigan University Technical College, where he spent four years as principal.
He said he was “honoured” to join the school and have the chance to lead it to an “even brighter future”.
Mr Hatherall said: “Vision Studio School has built a reputation for equipping young people with the skills to gain meaningful employment or high-status apprenticeships that meet the needs of industry. It’s become well-known for bringing new opportunities to students and employers in Mansfield and Ashfield.
“I’m keen to build on these strengths, enhance the learning experience and establish the school as a centre of excellence in securing young people’s futures.”
The father-of-two said some of the most rewarding moments in his professional life have come from former students sharing their successes with him.
He said: “I can’t wait to experience that here.”