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Away days

Staff at St Augustine of Canterbury RC school know if pupils are likely to respond well to spending part of key stage 4 in college by Year 9.

But the option of attending Oldham college one day a week to study a vocational subject is offered to all pupils.

About 50 pupils from St Augustine will join pupils from 14 other local schools at the college. Their timetables are drawn up to allow them to spend one or half a day away from school, but are expected to catch up with classes they miss.

The time out of school can be a hindrance to pupils who do not find it easy to catch up. But an Ofsted report last November noted that since the school expanded its curriculum to include modular courses, vocational and work-based elements, the "staff already notice an improvement in the engagement and responsibility of some pupils in Years 10 and 11".

Mike McGhee, deputy head at St Augustine, admits that it takes a fair amount of organisation, but is convinced that it is worth it: "Either you accept it and get on with it, or you don't do it. If you don't do it, you deprive kids of activities that will re-engage them."

St Augustine has been sending pupils to Oldham college since 2001, when it redesigned its post-14 curriculum to include vocational options such as manufacturing and engineering. "There is no way that we can deliver or staff these courses," says Mr McGhee. "There is not sufficient take-up."

Since then, programmes have expanded to include courses such as legal studies. The mixed-ability pupils are supported by a 14 to 16 co-ordinator and a team of mentors.

This year, Oldham has about 300 under-16s attending one day per week under its LIVE@OldhamCollege scheme. Numbers have been as high as 500, and normally include teenagers from a pupil referral unit. "It's a challenging role," says Susanne Quinn, key stage 4 programme manager at Oldham. "You have got to work with many different organisations and cultures."

The success of the courses is illustrated by the choices the teenagers make when they reach 16. Half of the students enrolled at the college, 13 per cent found a job, 9 per cent started a modern apprenticeship and 19 per cent joined the local sixth-form college.

Although the college receives money from the increased flexibility programme, it charges schools pound;570 per learner for 35 weeks tuition.

"The real cost is probably twice that," says Ms Quinn.

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