TEACHERS last night said a North school was lowering pupils’ aspirations by running a course in a mock call centre.
Hylton Red House School, in Sunderland, set up the scheme in conjunction with EDF Energy, which runs a call centre nearby.
On the “preparation course” – which is worth half a GCSE – pupils deal with complaints from computer-generated customers.
Assistant headteacher Helen Elderkin said the children were better prepared for work through the scheme.
But National Union of Teachers Sunderland branch secretary Howard Brown was worried young people would see call centre jobs as an easy option.
He said: “I am disappointed by it. I know that we have to teach children life skills, but to me that means taking children out to talk to businesses. I’m not too keen on bringing industry into schools. It narrows expectations.
“In the North-East there were not many jobs around. At one time it used to be mining and now there’s an awful lot of call centres.
“I would hate to think that the children are losing out on a wider perspective of job opportunities. Children will see it as an easy option.”
Classified as failing last year, Hylton Red House has since seen an upturn in fortunes and has been taken out of special measures. The school is due to become part of the three city academies planned for Sunderland in 2009.
After the first set of pupils finished the course last week, Ms Elderkin said the response had been positive.
She said: “It gives them a great deal of confidence and it allowed them to get a taste of a real working environment. Until now, they have not been able to have this kind of experience until they left school.
“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.”
Deputy director of children’s services at Sunderland Council, Keith Moore, said: “Far from lowering aspirations, we believe courses like the one being offered at Hylton Red House can actually encourage pupils and spur them on to greater things in their academic and vocational careers.
“As one of the world’s most advanced locations for the contact centre industry, Sunderland is home to a host of world class ‘blue chip’ companies like EDF energy, T-Mobile and Northern Rock which offer highly skilled, quality jobs in the contact centre industry.
“Many of these jobs are in the financial and banking sector and offer real opportunities for career progression to senior management level as well as highly transferable skills which will stand young people in good stead for a wide range of different careers.”
EDF Energy director of account management 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. “I’m local, started as a customer services adviser at our Doxford office, and worked my way up.
“I’m now in charge of the whole operation here. There are many staff in managerial and other positions who have done similar.”