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The Coventry solution

Coventry is one local authority that is making a serious attempt to provide disaffected youngsters with a suitable education.

The Government expects LEAs to provide full-time education for all pupils excluded for more than 15 days from next year. But the Midlands authority is already acting on the advice and proving that education does not just mean "school".

Teenagers excluded, or at risk of being excluded, from any of the city's 18 secondaries in their last school year are provided with placements in colleges and in jobs. They are offered training programmes as well as adventure activities, social skills sessions and confidence-boosting courses.

And all of them will be entered for either a GCSE or Associated Examination Board exam in maths and English as well as a basic certificate in information technology.

Seventy-two 15 and 16-year-olds are now studying at one of Coventry's three further education colleges.

Packages of work placements, training and outdoor activities have been tailored for a further 100.

Jo Timms, assistant head of the council's behaviour support service, said:

"Drop-out rates are very low from the college courses. These youngsters don't have to wear uniform, or be there from 9am to 3pm every day and they have programmes worked out for them in negotiation with tutors so they usually attend."

One in five pupils permanently excluded last year in Coventry gets more than 20 hours a week education. The city has a higher-than-average number of permanent exclusions compared with other urban authorities. But the figures are down from 118 in 199899 to 99 in 199900. Two-thirds of those excluded are boys.

Coventry has a small pupil-referral unit, praised by inspectors, taking in around 36 key stage 3 pupils a year, usually for one term.

The work with the 15 and 16-year-olds comes via a placement project headed by Mrs Timms (see below). Any who opt for college spend two-and-a-half dys there doing maths and English as well as vocational qualifications. They also have access to tutor groups and spend one or two days a week in a work placement.

"These excluded youngsters are bitter and angry. They feel rejected," said Mrs Timms. "The whole procedure where they are made to hear over and again that school doesn't want them is demoralising."

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* Tommy Coombes, 16, has been excluded from two schools - the first in 1997, the second in 1999 - for fighting a teacher and for an alleged arson attack.

Tommy has had three home tutors and joined Coventry's Local Education Authority Placement Project a year ago. He now has a work placement, is training as a sheet metal worker and is studying computing. He has a sister at college and a brother working in computing.

"I hated school, the headteacher, the work, everything. I used to get told off all the time for wearing trainers or not wearing uniform. Now I am learning a trade on my work placement, even if I don't get a job it is 10 times better than at school.

"The wag lady told me I was out of school for three-quarters of the year. I only liked maths, English, Spanish and computing. Here if you don't like something you can tell them and they try to do something about it. At school they just told you to shut up. I want to go on to college."

Peter McTigue, 15, was a boy at risk. He had already been excluded for a week. He joined LEAPP in September. Now he is studying computing and began a new series of maths and English sessions this week.

"I didn't like school at all and used to wag off loads. I used to get bullied in Year 9 and in Year 10 I was excluded for a week.

"My brothers and sisters think that I'm getting time off , but I'm learning things here, and I haven't wagged off once. I want to come to these sessions; it's a lot better than school. I'm looking for a work placement and I want to join the fire brigade."

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