A high school in north London is demonstrating how well a construction GCSE can work

GCSE Construction students being taught on-site to get a real-life experience of the construction industry
GCSE Construction students being taught on-site to get a real-life experience of the construction industry

The students and staff who are trying out the new construction GCSE have now made it through the first half-term of the academic year.

It has been a particularly hectic few months for the staff, not least because many are technology teachers who do not have a construction background, and are learning almost as much as their pupils. For the students - at least for some of them - it has already given them a glimpse of what a career on a construction site might be like.

Last Monday, teachers from five of the eight London pilot schools, as well as Greenford College in Hockley, Essex, and two supporting colleges, had an opportunity to meet and reflect on their initial experiences at a training day held at Finchley Catholic High School in north London. It was also a chance for those from non-construction backgrounds to get to grips with the one compulsory core unit of the GCSE: sustainability.

Sue Goodwin, CITB-ConstructionSkills' education team manager for the region, says: "Whatever other options the students take, they've all got to do sustainability units. The idea of today is to demonstrate how the industry tackles this issue and for the teachers to get practical experience in the area."

Finchley Catholic High School was chosen to host the day because it had formed a partnership with Willmott Dixon. This meant that the teachers had had the opportunity to watch work in progress at the contractor's site at the nearby Meadowside Care Home and see how issues of sustainability affect a construction project.

However, the link with Willmott Dixon has far greater significance for the students at Finchley, and Monday was also an opportunity to showcase how effective this has been. Having a real-life project close by means that once every four weeks the pupils can get onto a live site under the supervision of Paul Clemence, the Willmott Dixon site manager. The experience is clearly one they relish. Clemence says: "They've got 1001 questions on anything and everything. From what I hear, the A level students are getting quite jealous."

Willmott Dixon initiated the partnership because it was looking to forge links with a school close to one of its sites. Other construction GCSE providers are not so fortunate, or at least not yet. Willmott Dixon's Chrissie Chadney, who chairs the GCSE stakeholder group, says: "A lot of employers have said they're interested, but it hasn't happened everywhere yet."

This is not a source of major concern just yet - the CITB's Goodwin says she expects to have industrial partners for all the pilot schemes in the South-east by Christmas - but it is a vital component of the GCSE course and employers do need to get on board soon.

For now, they have Finchley as a model to aspire to. Colin Dobson, a consultant at examination board EdExcel, describes the school as "the best practice centre. One we'd wish to see in all pilot schemes". As well as the links with Willmott Dixon, the school has forged a partnership with the College of North-west London, where the students spend three days a month with trained construction teachers.

The school is keen to capitalise on its new-found link with the construction industry. As part of a contribution to National Construction Week, it also took the opportunity on Monday to launch the Barnet Construction Partnership with Barnet council, Willmott Dixon and fellow contractor HBG. The partnership will seek to improve the construction-related experiences of young people at the school and, in due course, at other schools across the borough. But for now, it's time for all concerned to take a well-earned holiday.