CC Particle World? Would be a bit fiddly to make it follow a specific path in 3D, but it's not impossible. for more inspiration, simply stop by at Andrew Kramer's website and study the tutorials. There's quite a few things in terms of sparks and explosions and you are sure to find some inspiration.
Thanks for the direction.
Probably only need a 2D effect at this stage. I found a lot of tutorials,
but nothing that worked in the way I hoped. Also, not being able to run
CS4, I get confused as to what components are part of the program and what
I'll have a look at the website though and see if there is anything closer
to the desired effect.
CC Particle World has a confusing 3D interface but you can actually push and pull the keyframes in z space within the filter. Not intuitive.
CC Particle System will create lovely sparks, I use it often, but getting realistic sparks from a fuse is not simple. You also need smoke. And you need more than one emitter for the particles so you get some randomness.
Check Cycore's site, they have several tutorials for their products, even the freebies that have been packaged with AE for manyyears including CS3.
Also, not being able to run CS4, I get confused as to what components are part of the program and what are add-ins.
While created by a third-party external developer, the CC effects are part of AE ever since version 6.0. The better question is, whether they are actualyl installed on your computers at school, since it requires a separate install step in versions before CS3. If you are just looking for a 2D effect, CC Particle Systems II, as David suggested, is a good option. Also consider, that in fact there is a million ways to make fractal noise and other procedural patterns look like smoke, embers and sparks by animating their properties, tweaking their parameters and combining them with glows, blurs and distortion effects...