Knowledge is power in Business Class

Last edited: 26 January 2015

Do you have the opportunity at work to help school children build and program Lego robots? BP Magazine visits the London school where office staff volunteer in the classroom to encourage pupils’ interest in science, maths, engineering and technology (STEM) subjects

“It may take a village to raise a child but it needs a community to educate one.” So says, Robyn Bruce, the head teacher of Cubitt Town Junior School, a school flourishing through community collaboration.

Located in Tower Hamlets in London’s East End, Cubitt Town serves students aged seven to 11-years-old from 22 different ethnicities. For around 60% of pupils, English is their second language. “Tower Hamlets and the Isle of Dogs is renowned for being one of the most deprived areas in London,” says Ms Bruce. “Poverty generally means that putting food on the table is more important than education.”

The gleaming towers of Canary Wharf stand close to the Cubitt Town neighbourhood, jutting into the skyline but appearing a world away to many residents. “In the Isle of Dogs, people see the glittering lights of Canary Wharf and never imagine that they’ll get there,” says BP’s Andrew Walton, integrated supply and trading global change manager.

Acutely aware of the positive role that corporate education initiatives can have in such areas, BP has been working with the school to provide learning support and resources through the long-standing Schools Link programme. Through it, the information technology and services team has provided volunteers to support staff with reading, numeracy and computing, and opened students’ eyes to career opportunities.
"It may take a village to raise a child, but it needs a community to educate one."
- Robyn Bruce

Business in the Community

Now, that support has been expanded through the trial of a new programme initiated by the charity ‘Business in the Community’ - Business Class - which takes corporate involvement in education to a new level.

The government-endorsed framework enables large businesses to form long-term partnerships with groups of schools in disadvantaged areas, supporting the schools and inspiring young people.

The partnership goes deeper than traditional relationships by harnessing the skills of business people to support teachers with training, assist them with budgets and project management, and inspire children in STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths - subjects.

BP’s Business Class lead, Walton, has joined the board of governors at Cubitt Town to cement BP’s commitment to the school and keep abreast of any curricular changes, moulding the projects accordingly.

“We’re interested in how we as a business can help young kids achieve their potential regardless of their background,” explains Ian Duffy, BP community development manager. “Business In The Community dates back 30 years to the Brixton riots. It was set up to address the challenge of how business could be a force for good in local communities. They’ve been working across a whole range of themes and projects ever since.

“Education,” says Duffy, “is one of the most important. Business Class specifically targets schools in more challenging socio-economic areas,” he continues. “These are the kids who don’t normally get the advantages. As a result they typically will not be able to use education to change their social circumstance.

BP Schools Link programme

The year the BP Schools Link programme began in UK
The number of schools the programme covers
The number of school children who benefit each year

Back to school

As ‘clients’, the schools set the agenda. “With constant budget cuts, pressure to excel and mountains of paper work, schools often find it difficult to be all things to all pupils,” says Ms Bruce. “This is where BP comes in. Meetings between senior leaders identified the barriers to learning and teaching. We devised an action plan for how BP could support both the teachers and pupils in the school to exceed expectations.”
In Cubitt Town, 57 BP volunteers run sessions arranged around science, technology, equality and leadership, from workshops teaching basic programming skills to mentoring, additional lessons, after-school activities and high-level learning materials.

A popular activity involves Lego robots, run at the Canary Wharf offices. Children work with BP staff to build small models with simple computer chips and programme them to fulfil basic functions. “The kids love it,” says Walton. “We’ve often got 30 kids running round, screaming and smiling. They get very excited.”

“We controlled robots – really controlled them,” says student Nabilah Khan. “BP taught us to control them through a computer. We even made them spin around. I didn’t know computers could do that. I want to work with technology when I grow up. It was so cool!”

Ambia Begum is just as enthusiastic: “We got to identify problems with the control pad which wasn’t working. We had to work together to come up with a plan to fix it. I really like fixing robots.”

Equal opportunities

The programme also supports gender equality; many girls in the schools come from backgrounds where they would not traditionally go into higher education or professional careers.  Mentorships and initiatives such as talks on ‘women in IT’, which reveal the issues facing women in the workforce and how to overcome gender stereotyping, show youngsters the options available.
"I didn’t know about all the jobs out here that girls could do. I’m going to be a PE teacher when I grow up now."
- Sarah Regan
"Adults with all types of jobs spoke to us and inspired us. I didn’t know ladies could be engineers. I want to be one."
- Zaina Begum
“I didn’t know about all the jobs out here that girls could do,” says pupil Sarah Regan. “I’m going to be a PE teacher when I grow up now.”

“Adults with all types of jobs spoke to us and inspired us,” continues student Zaina Begum. “I didn’t know ladies could be engineers. I want to be one.”

It isn’t just the kids who benefit. Volunteers have found the scheme hugely gratifying: “We get to pass on our love of science, technology and maths to the kids,” says Walton. “It’s an all-round good thing and the more that BP can do in this space across the UK, the better for everyone.”

On a macro scale, it’s brought breadth to the entire BP education programme. “The Business Class framework is a fantastic way of planning business’ engagement with schools,” says Duffy. “We’re trialling a different approach; more than just a sponsor, we’re being an active partner. And, we’ve been able to use the methodology across the whole of our Schools Link programme.”

Bridging the gap

The support has been invaluable to the school on a number of levels: “It’s not just the resourcing, equipment and lessons,” says Ms Bruce. “It’s human contact, the knowledge that someone cares. The bridge between a poor area and a rich area, where a number of my pupils feel they don’t belong.”

“I see Lego in classrooms with teachers now eager to program instead of fearing it; girls talk about going to university. BP doesn’t just work with children – it has inspired learning in us all.”

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