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Choice makes pupils want to stay

Fourteen-year-olds in Lewisham can choose between five routes to finish their compulsory education ranging from traditional academic courses to workplace learning.

The south London borough has encouraged schools to work together in clusters and federations to offer pupils the broadest possible choice of courses including health and social care, leisure and tourism.

Young people can also follow a vocational course designed to prepare them for work in public-sector jobs such as the police, fire and health services and the council itself.

Lewisham provides pupils with an online "virtual learning environment"

offering lessons in subjects such as maths and science where schools face recruitment difficulties.

The five pathways for pupils are:

* an academic option leading to 10 or 11 GCSEs and with the chance for the brightest pupils to take AS-levels early;

* a mix of GNVQs and five GCSEs;

* school-based vocational courses leading to GNVQs, Btecs and other qualifications;

* work-related learning where pupils study vocational options and spend a day a week in college, including the public sector option; l work-based learning where pupils spend a significant amount of time at Lewisham college or with training providers in the community.

Since the scheme was introduced in 2003, the proportion of pupils gaining five or more A*-C grade GCSEs or equivalent has increased from 39 per cent to almost 50 per cent.

More than four out of five pupils stay on in education post-16 and the council aims to increase this to 90 per cent over the next year. Every young person who wants to stay on after school can do so.

Patricia Slonecki, head of Bonus Pastor school, which is involved in the initiative, said: "We are not a huge school, we only have 750 pupils, but we can offer an amazing range of courses. We simply wouldn't have been able to do this on our own. It allows us to take a more personalised approach to learning; it is very much geared to what the pupils want. It doesn't just meet the needs of those who want to do vocational courses but also the needs of the brightest pupils."

Ofsted said: "This initiative has enabled a step change in the attainment of 14-19 learners in Lewisham over the past few years. Improvements at key stage 4 are some of the highest in the country and participation rates have risen dramatically."

The council stressed the role of young people themselves in the project. A citizenship council with two representatives from each secondary school allows pupils to put their views to the authority.

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