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Bring on the young, cast out the jargon

WHEN Coventry's Connexions management committee talked about interviewing potential personal advisers, its youngest member spoke up.

Ainsley Henn, 15, had a pertinent question: "How are you going to make sure they can interact with young people unless there are young people involved in the interview process."

The committee duly agreed to involve its two young representatives in the selection process. Candidates were asked for a presentation showing how they would talk to and develop relationships with teenagers.

Ainsley was also on the interview panel for black candidates. He is disappointed with the lack of ethnic-minority representation on the Connexions local management committee - he is the only African- Caribbean member. But he believes he and Ella Malin, 17, do have a real voice. "I think we have made quite a stand and we're being listened to. But I do say that the only time young people will be represented fully is when half the members of the management committee are young people."

Ella agrees: "I got involved because I wanted to get my point of view across. If we're going to have our own mentors, young people should have a say in that.

"At first I thought the people on the committee were going to talk down to us, but they didn't. They class us on the same level. They actually take note and listen to our contribution."

She has a firm idea of the qualities personal advisers should possess. "You have to be able to trust them, they're not actually school, so they won't tell your teachers what's going on.

"They will be somebody who's got experience in a wide range of things. Basically, they'll just be there for you, to give you back up and help when you need it."

Coventry careers chief Steve Stewart admits that at first, he had doubts about bringing young people onto the management committee, fearing that it smacked of tokenism.

"I'm now a serious convert," he says. "It helps you to focus on what matters, rather than the bureaucracy of it.

"The other thing is it means you get into a situation where you have meetings that are as jargon-free as possible, and seriously focused on what matters. The idea of having young people at the heart of it takes away a lot of the bureaucracy."

The Connexions team has also launched a consultation exercise among Coventry's young people.

It asks what they think of current information, advice and guidance, what they expect from Connexions and how they want to be involved in developing and delivering the service.

Ella said: "Hopefully as it picks up, more young people are going to have their say and have a better deal. We're the future really - it's good that we're actually getting our views across."

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