The debate about establishing school-company coordinators began in 2014. Creating and maintaining high quality long-term co-operation places significant demands on organisations particularly in relation to the planning, assessment and evaluation of students’ practical education in enterprises. The national project POSPOLU (Enhancing cooperation between schools and companies, 2012-2015) suggested establishing the position of a coordinator. There is a particular need for these coordinators when schools work with many different enterprises (for some schools this involves working with more than 100 employers).
POSPOLU recommended that the coordinator would be in charge of adjusting the terms and conditions of co-operation between the school and the enterprise and would be responsible for ensuring students gain at least the minimum amount of practical training and work placements in enterprises. The coordinators’ tasks would include researching companies in the region, identifying suitable enterprises with adequate personnel and resources, establishing contacts and networking, and evaluating the quality of the co-operation with each enterprise. In addition to securing opportunities for students to receive practical training, POSPOLU proposed that coordinators should be involved I n:
- organising student recruitment in co-operation with enterprises;
- implementing the final examinations in the workplace;
- developing graduation projects based on completing assignments for companies;
- organising leisure activities for students in co-operation with companies;
- securing internships for school teachers in companies;
- recruiting practitioners to contribute to teaching at schools.
POSPOLU suggested that the coordinator should be a school employee. In the case of small schools, a deputy head teacher for practical education might fulfil this function. In large schools, one of the teachers for practical training or work placements might take on the coordinator role as a part-time job. Some of the key tasks of the coordinator would include:
- writing an annual Supplement to the school curriculum following negotiations with companies;
- setting up processes for monitoring and evaluating the quality of students’ practical education at companies and other forms of co-operation with enterprises.
In April 2015 the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT) recommended a set of contractual relationships between employers and schools. These aimed to standardise the organisation of practical training in companies and encourage employers to cooperate with schools. This recommendation proposes that school staff are responsible for conducting and implementing practical training. The coordinator represents the school during the discussions with the company and provides the work-based instructor with methodological assistance during the practical training. The coordinator is responsible for controlling the activities which take place during the practical teaching, and ensures there is effective collaboration between the teacher of practical education from the school and the instructor from the company.
Since December 2016 schools have been able to apply for grants for projects which include the creation of a ’coordinator’. The tasks of a coordinator includes:
- searching for relevant employers in the region and starting a dialogue in order to ascertain their interest in cooperation and the nature of the cooperation;
- ensuring employers are aware of the conditions of working with students and ensuring there is mutual agreement;
- maintaining close contact with representatives of regional chambers of commerce, sector councils and associations, etc.;
- evaluating the effectiveness of the cooperation and ensuring feedback from the companies is implemented and used to improve practice;
- involving schools in creating new forms of cooperation, organising the internships of teachers in companies etc.
How the new EQAVET+ indicative descriptor is being used
The secondary technical school of electrical engineering in Plzeň has cooperated with companies in the region for many years. Several years ago a teacher of practical training, with the deputy director, coordinated the work with companies and liaised with individual students at various worksites. Nowadays the school needs to manage the increased demand from companies for students who could complete the practical training and a work placement in the company. The school works with more than 70 companies and managing these relationships creates a heavy administrative load. The school has found that it is not possible for a coordinator to be a full-time teacher and fulfill their regular pedagogical duties.
The school has established a new coordinator position. The appointee is a former graduate of the school who has worked in a company and has a good understanding of the business environment. The coordinator’s professional background is valued by the companies and his knowledge of the school and staff makes the role easier to complete. As he is not a teacher, he has a different set of professional habits from those who have always worked in a school environment. He has an important role with companies with no experience of cooperating with the school – in particular his role includes demonstrating the benefits of cooperation and explaining the emphasis on quality. The coordinator is in close and regular contact with the instructors of practical training who lead the training of the students when they are in the companies (the law does not require instructors to have a pedagogical qualification - they are company employees and the company decides who will take on this role).
The coordinator ensures the companies know about the tax incentives offered by the state for cooperating with schools. He also works with companies to encourage pupils in primary schools to consider a career in engineering.
How is this practice linked to the EQAVET indicators?
- Indicator 1 – the position of a coordinator helps to build and deepen the overall quality culture in the relationship between school and a company. The coordinator evaluates the quality of the relationship with individual companies and suggests revisions when necessary.
- Indicator 2 - the school trains the company based instructors to help them to manage their interactions with students. The school also informs them about their tasks and responsibilities towards the students; the school curricula and the content of the education programme; and the training which the school expects to be provided by the company.
What problems were encountered and overcome in using the EQAVET+ indicative descriptors?
There are often difficulties for companies with no experience of cooperating with a secondary school or when the companies have previously provided a different form of cooperation (e.g. in-company visits or providing equipment for a school workshop). To overcome these potential difficulties, the school prepared a short programme for the human resource (HR) managers of less experienced companies and the instructors of practical training. This helped to provide them with information, explained the competences required for effective interactions with students; and explained the health and safety rules associated with working with young people. The companies were also informed about the school’s education programme, the expected content of the practical education, and essential administrative issues and demands relating to the provision of practical training. The companies often comment that the administrative requirements are a burden for them and therefore these tasks are usually undertaken by the school.
What lessons have been learnt by using this EQAVET+ indicative descriptor?
The position of coordinator has been seen as useful. He acts as a bridge between the school and the companies and brings the added benefit to the school of a business background. The school in Plzeň will apply for a grant within the call from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to cover the costs connected with the appointment of the coordinator.