Students in St Margaret's High School in Liverpool have designed and successfully marketed a computer game. David Dennison and Les Hankin report on a striking demonstration on economic wellbeing as a diver of school activity
As with all the Every Child Matters outcomes, the emphasis on economic wellbeing comes with a wish that all children should enjoy, achieve and make a positive contribution. Enterprise is at the forefront and organisations are asked to find ways to work effectively together to help young people learn and thrive through focused economic activity.
In order to encourage entrepreneurial learning among their students, St Margaret’s High School teamed up with, a dynamic local company. Lateral Visions is a computer software house specialising in interactive real-time software and they pitched in considerable expertise to work with the students on an exciting quality product that stands on its own merits as a commercial offering.
Dr Carl Gavin, the MD of Lateral Visions, is an academic turned entrepreneur, who built his company after creating world-beating simulation and visualisation techniques. Himself an old boy of St Margaret’s, he’s become an active governor, generous in his long-term support for the school.
John Paterson, an education lecturer at the local university, Liverpool Hope, was energised by economic enterprises he had seen in the USA but was also perplexed by the absence in degree programmes of any recognition of the power of social enterprise. With the help of a North West Development Agency grant, John developed a model for engaging young people and successfully applied this to music, dance, drama, team sports and information technology. Getting together with Carl, he then hatched the idea of a special project that would enable St Margaret’s boys to address real work-placed problem solving and so gain valuable insights into how companies are set up and run.
Encouraged by St Margaret’s headmaster, Dr David Dennison, a small software company was set up. Taking the name SMG (St Margaret’s Games), the company has modelled itself on the computer games industry but with a social enterprise leaning. Guided by teacher Geoff Laird, himself highly experienced in the edutainment sphere from his work as a DJ, the students set up a proper company structure with an emphasis on mirroring the realities of business. They went through the process of deciding, designing and realising the racing game. They have also joined the professionals on the company’s board, working to ensure it works within financially viable bounds as it explores this new relevance for entrepreneurial learning and wellbeing.
SMG has achieved its original purpose in giving these youngsters an insight into the workings of the manufacturing process, but it has gone way beyond that. A product has been conceived that stands comparison with the cutting-edge video games that are now so integral to young people’s cultural lives.
The game, which the students have called ‘Streets of Culture’, is a high-speed challenging 3D racing experience. In a calculated nod to Liverpool’s coming ‘Capital of Culture 2008’ status and marketing potential, the multiple-choice race tracks are all arranged around Liverpool landmarks, which are strikingly imaged in faithful detail. Because buildings and tracks can be added as and when needed, the game has great promotional and commercial potential. Jaguar, a big Liverpool employer, has warmly supported the venture and shared design details to ensure that the Jags prowling the circuit are accurate and reflect the qualities of the brand.
In the post-production phase, the students are now implementing their own short- and long-term marketing plans to boost sales of the game, so that more profit can be donated to the company’s chosen charity, Children in Need, which gets all the proceeds.
Dr Dennison is delighted with the many ways in which SMG has encouraged social enterprise and responsibility. ‘The project has engaged the students in creativity in design and art, entrepreneurial and business learning, and in making a difference through social enterprise by working on an exciting, real product.’
This excitement and pride generated by Streets of Culture are infectious. Geoff Laird has noticed how it has empowered the students to believe in themselves after succeeding with a real, commercially attractive product. ‘This is such an invaluable experience for them. They’ve found qualities and skills that will set them up for the world of work and business that awaits them after they leave full-time education. This project approach enables students to make a positive contribution to society and they get a sense of wellbeing, not just economically but socially and academically as well.’ Geoff and his colleagues intend these benefits to spread beyond the core company group and plans to work with other schools and age phases.
John Paterson feels that social justice is as important as the other dividends of this venture, but he also sees other elements to it all. ‘Great things come from pupils engaged with learning, especially where they are learning about learning. Government policy has been all about using information and communication technology to generate new employment by finding creative angles in the curriculum. The vision of St Margaret’s in seeing this venture through has been so fulfilling for all concerned. The innovative idea of designing a game as part of the school curriculum, keeping faith with it, and driving the project forward towards goals of social justice, resonates way beyond what we all originally expected.’