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Teenagers get lessons in working in call centres


By PAUL SIMS - More by this author ยป Last updated at 15:50pm on 23rd July 2007 commentIconSm.gif Comments (2)



Pupils at a secondary school are being taught how to sell mobile phone contracts and answer complaints in an on-site call centre.

The students, who are aged between 15 and 16, are trained to deal with queries from computer-generated customers in a specially-adapted classroom.

The course, which is worth half a GCSE, was set up last year with the help of EDF Energy which runs its own call centre a couple of miles away from the school.

Those behind it say the scheme was designed to give final year students a wide range of skills that would help them secure a job or continue their education.



But the National Union of Teachers claimed the centre at Hylton Red House School in Sunderland would serve only to "stifle" ambition among its teenagers.

Howard Brown, secretary of the NUT in the region, acknowledged the need to equip them for a variety of jobs but condemned the scheme as a step too far.

"It seems that this is going back to the old days when we told children round here that they had to go straight down the mines when they left," he said.

"Now the mines have gone and we are saying they have to go and work in a call centre. We have an obligation to give them a bit more than that.

"Children, particularly in this area, must be taught that there is more to life than working in a call centre and I'm sure they are.

"But by introducing this course all they are doing is lowering their aspirations."

He added: "This is nothing more than an easy way for EDF to recruit workers on the cheap.

"No organisation would put money into something like this without the prospect of getting something from it in the end."

Staff from EDF Energy helped to transform a classroom at the school into a call centre called Train 4 Life and the first group of pupils graduated last week.

Helen Elderkin, assistant headteacher at the school, defended the course and claimed it had been a huge success and popular among pupils.

"It gives them a great deal of confidence and it allowed them to get a taste of a real working environment," she said.

"Until now they have not been able to have this kind of experience until they left school. This has been a great example of working closely with business and the City of Sunderland College.

"The children approached us because they wanted something different and together we came up with a call centre. These lessons give them real confidence as well as skills in IT and communication that will help whether they stay in education or go out and look for work."

Miss Elderkin said that the call centre course, which is also open to adults in the area, was also part of a wider attempt to support the community which has suffered with high levels of deprivation and unemployment since the mines closed.

"We are committed to raising pupils' aspirations and offering adults, many of them former pupils, every opportunity to access training and employment that is going to be of real benefit," she added.

The school was deemed to be failing last year, although it has improved and was recently taken out of special measures. It has since signed up to the government's academy programme.

Angela Bryan, 15, said the call centre course had already proved popular with pupils at the school.

"A lot of people want to do it because it teaches us how to use computers better and about getting used to dealing with people on the telephone."

Another pupil, Vicky Ward, 15, said: "It's like proper work experience and that means it is useful, which makes it more popular."

A spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education branded the course "a waste of time". Chairman Nick Seaton said: "It's quite wrong to let a particular company simply use school time to train youngsters to work exclusively in their line of business.

"School should give them the solid foundations in different subjects so that they can pursue any work or training that suits them. Spending time on this is going to reduce standards, not raise them.

"You wonder how any headteacher or set of school governors could agree to something like that."

Last night, EDF Energy's senior operations manager, Kevin Gatens, said: "Confidence, IT and communication skills are essential in most jobs today, and if we can help young people gain those skills whilst still at school then great."

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