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Big gun joins the fight for inclusion

Harvey McGavin reports on the career path of Anne Weinstock, the new chief executive of Connexions.

CHARITY director Anne Weinstock has been named chief executive of the youth careers and advice service, Connexions.

Ms Weinstock, who has been on secondment to the Department for Education and Employment for a year, co-ordinating the Millennium Volunteers project, moves into the civil service full-time.

She described the job of leading the new service as a "really exciting opportunity - but I don't underestimate the challenge of it".

Connexions, launched in February with an annual budget of pound;500 million, is one of the main weapons in the Government's campaign to tackle social exclusion. It will offer careers advice and personal counselling to 13 to 19-year-olds. An estimated 20,000 mentors will be recruited and trained to help deliver the service.

Foremost among her tasks will be reducing the number of young people - estimated at 170,000 - who are neither in work, education nor training. Connexions will also work towards targets to increase achievement and reduce truancy, exclusions, drug abuse, offending and pregnancies.

But Ms Weinstock says that directing help towards the most at-risk youngsters - the issue which forced a Government defeat in the Lords during the reading of the Learning and Skills Bill - will not be at the expense of others. "I don't just see it as being about the bottom 20 per cent, the most disaffected, although there is an obvious need to focus on them.

"It will be as relevant to the future high-flyer as to the potential drop out."

As someone who has sat on the board of Manchester's Training and Enterprise Council and the North West Further Education Funding Council, is a member of the Government's skills task-force and a director of the Centre for Social Inclusion, she has just the kind of interdisciplinarybackground needed for such a wide-ranging initiative.

"The future will be about strategic partnerships. No one institution can do everything. We tend to think that every supplier has to supply it all, but that doesn't necessarily meet the young person's needs."

An economics and social studies graduate, she began working for the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, rising to the post of principal officer within three years.

In 1985 she took over as chief executive of Rathbone CI (Community Industry), a charity helping young people with special educational or training needs, taking it from the verge of bankruptcy to its present position as one of the country's top 100 charities with a turn-over of pound;30 million and 900 staff and volunteers at its 80 branches.

In 1983 she was awarded the CBE for services to the education and training of young people with learning difficulties.

The Millennium Volunteers project, which will become part of Connexions, used a combination of altruism and self-interest ("an MV on your CV" is its slogan) to encourage some 4,000 young people to offer their services. She talks optimistically about teenagers' resourcefulness, but says guidance needs to be more relevant.

"If a 14-year-old thinks she might be pregnant or a 15-year-old is being beaten black and blue those are the problems you have to sort first. The last thing they will be thinking about is careers advice. This is going to be a kind of revolution in the way we support teenagers."

"Putting young people first - that's the most important thing."

The Government announced this week that Connexions pilots will be extended from five to 13 areas. The new pilots will be in: central London, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Durham, Oldham, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and Huntercombe Young Offenders Institute in Oxfordshire.

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