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Beating a path to Boston

Boston college in Lincolnshire was offering vocational courses for 14 to 16-year-olds long before it became government policy.

The college now attracts some 800 students a year from more than 20 schools, who come in one day a week to take vocational qualifications as part of their curriculum package. It offers a broad range of options, including electrical installation, carpentry and joinery, engineering, childcare, motor vehicle mechanics and performing arts. Year 9 pupils are invited to attend open days and taster sessions to help them choose their vocational options for key stage 4.

The programme has achieved exceptional results, gaining 93 per cent attendance and 98 per cent achievement rates. The college became a Department for Education and Skills 14-19 pathfinder three years ago - its vocational work with pupils has won it an Association of Colleges Beacon award.

Claire George, who manages the 14-19 pathfinder, says it was built on well-established partnerships with schools, with quality assurance, recruitment processes and information, advice and guidance already in place. "We had some strong foundations there already," she says. "With pathfinder funding we were able to develop more quickly than we would otherwise have been able to. It went from me with a mobile phone to a team of five."

The partnership invested the funding in its infrastructure to make the programme more sustainable. Boston college developed a re-engagement programme for 14-16s, and looked at increasing progression post-16, particularly for vulnerable learners such as those excluded from school.

The college has high figures for young people not in education, employment or training. And youngsters in this rural area face a range of issues, including poor transport and a low-wage economy.

The area's selective grammar schools also take their toll, says Ms George.

"Kids at age 11 have already been put on the success or failure pile, so re-motivating a child who has already been written off as a failure within a national curriculum that's so restrictive is a major challenge."

She stresses that the college's 14-19 provision is still " work in progress". There are still challenges to overcome, such as the funding gap between schools and colleges and the demands on further education.

But, says Ms George, the 14-19 strategy is reaping rewards for students.

"Where they have been engaged in vocational subjects at college from 14 to 16, their progression rate post-16 as increased substantially."

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