What have I learned on a study visit to Northern Ireland?

26.9. 2015 – 2.10. 2015

Despite the different school system and different paths in the education vertical, I got some good ideas on how to improve and upgrade education in our country during my study visit to Northern Ireland. The essential difference that I see is in the secondary vocational education and training (after 16 years of age). The focus is on professional content and not on general subjects (that they already acquired at the previous level of education, from 11 to 16 years of age.
We visited a few workshops of practical training in the Environmental Skill Centre School (Newtownards Campus), where we observed workshops for electrical, plumbing, central heating, masonry, and we talked to teachers.
As I understood, they include students who have reintegrated into education and can train for one of the professions. The role of teaching staff is tutorial and motivational aimed at keeping the students in the school till they finish education. Students stay in school for one or two days and the remaining part they are at the employers.
It would be interesting to know how much practical training in school is really compatible with practical training at the employer.
I would like to commend their pedagogical approach, individualization and concern for each student. They encourage them to achieving their goals.

At the same school, we were also introduced to the field of social care and early childhood education. Two students (23 years and 19 years) each presented their own path of vertical education (paths can vary). Mentor from the kindergarten talked very positively about the integration of students into work process and about cooperation with the school.
Mutual trust and respect between the schools and employers, as well as good cooperation are in my opinion fundamental conditions for the effective organization in order to facilitate wellbeing and expected competence in schools and during work based learning.

We visited an old railway station and the restoration workshop for old trains from the previous century. There were a few students engaged in WBL. Within this project, the focus is on fields of mechanical engineering, woodworking, upholstery, etc.
It was interesting that the mentor, project leader of restoration (retired lover of old railways), presented the general content of the project. A student has presented the work of machines and devices. Student’s self-esteem is largely developed during the practical WBL. They also developed the attitude towards cultural heritage.
We should recognize the important role of the mentor that has a passion for doing his job. Such a mentor is a good role model and educator.

In the St. Patrick’s modern museum, we got to know the history of Christianity in Ireland.
Knowledge of historical facts allows understanding of some systemic solutions in place today. Preserving cultural heritage through vocational education inspired me. I believe that we could do more on this issue in Slovenia.

Aurora Leisure Centre in Bangor is a massive sports complex for local residents and wider community. It covers different sized swimming pools for various target groups (for professionals, recreational users, for adults, school kids, newborns and toddlers), fitness, wellness,… . a fitness center with multiple computer-equipped exercise apparatus in rooms of different sizes, with different halls for various individual and team sports, with wellness centers, etc … All visitors can run a portfolio about their progress and physical condition through smart phone application.
They take many students in to the WBL program (e.g. In the field of mechanical engineering- caring for the proper functioning of sport equipment; IT- caring for proper functioning of the ICT system; catering- Healthy food, refreshments; Tourism- reception service, information, promotion,…). At the end only the best ones are employed.
I believe that Aurora Leisure Centre in Bangor is excellent example for how to link vocational training with local environment. They cooperate with different schools with various educational programs and have excellent organization of work. At the same time they are encouraging youth to lead healthy lifestyles, to be ambitious and to have better results.
At the SERC adviser Ms. Barbara presented monitoring- hospitations, consulting and the introduction of new teachers in the culture and requirements of their schools. The introduction takes place in line with their vision for maximizing the quality of school teaching and comprehensive work with students.
That to me was very interesting. To my knowledge, only young teachers (trainees) have mentors in Slovenia. Older teachers are left to themselves and are consolidating their established teaching practice. They should be developing, updating and adjusting to new novelties.
We visited new extension to the school in which is the classroom for Informatics. Teacher there was critical about the system and employers. The competition between schools is large and students have difficulties obtaining of learning places.
WBL organizers in Slovenia highlight the same problem.

We also visited employers in the field of hospitality and tourism in the five star Culloden Hotel &Spa (in Cultra). The hotel is really at a high level. The Head presented us their vision and requirements, the students took us on a tour of hotel rooms, suites, of the restaurant, the hotel bar and wellness services. Student are excited to have WBL in this hotel, because they can be creative. One of them, a barman enthusiast experimented and managed to prepare a cocktail, which is now placed in permanent offering in the hotel bar.
My assessment is that it is very important for student to be included directly in the work process. It is important to allow them to be creative and to give them an environment where they can develop their ideas. If student’s ideas are good employers will realize them in practice. They will also reword students. Such experience in WBL is invaluable to the student. This also puts benefit to the company and mentor.

The royal Mail students engage WBL in industrial automation and engineering development project. It is high-quality company in terms of the organization, logistics, and automation in postal traffic. They emphasized the importance of development of core competencies, »soft skills«, that is, social skills and personal qualities of students. Tutors consistently and unconditionally require from students appropriate business behavior in communication and dressing. They are encouraged to develop self-esteem, self- confidence, decisiveness, politeness,… Exceptional accuracy and consistency are also important for the postal company, losing a single shipment worldwide is not option. Shipment process is automated and computerized, at every moment it is possible to check which part of the communication process in the world, the shipment has been lost / misplaced.
The employees are extremely proud of their work and their company. They are transferring this relationship with the company to the youth. I think that the pride and identification with their work in the company is an important key also for students at WBL. This is the key to healthy personality and effective vocational education.

On the SERC in Lisburn they showed us a workshop for practical training for the cosmetic and hairdressing business. Students practice massages and other services on each other accompanied by calm music and aromatherapy. Certain days (2 or 3 days a week), they carry out in school workshops, offering hairdressing and cosmetic services for external customers. Students serve clients under the supervision of teachers. Each student receives a full curriculum with the tasks, issues and the assessment criteria. Every successfully completed task and answers to questions students assess themselves, and an evaluation is also given by a teacher. Only when the task is successfully completed, they can proceed to the next task. Teachers of practical classes also teach professional theory, but professional courses are largely in general classrooms in another building.
I think it is very important that the student knows whole curriculum and expected learning outcomes. Therefore, the student is able to assess where they are currently located and what he still needs to learn. I also appreciate that the student assess himself first. Later the teachers assess him also and they give feedback to students on their achievements. Each student must (positively) carry out any work assignment, otherwise he cannot move forward. This approach will ensure that the student does not have »holes« in the knowledge and is systematically progressing in accordance with their capabilities.
It is good that the teachers of practical training also largely teach technical theory. It makes it easier to connect theory with practice and give students an unknown substance re-explained on a case study, in a training workshop for practical lessons.

Despite some differences between the two countries, we can draw some same or similar solutions. Our WBL organizers would definitely want information system BEST, which runs and monitors the activities of students on the WBL. In Slovenia WBL is kept in a paper form, which requires a lot of administration.

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