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Engineered to build confidence

Rolls-Royce apprentices and pupils with special needs are helping each other to flourish, reports Eleanor Caldwell.

When the Rolls-Royce boys come to Kersland School in Paisley, Renfrewshire, on Monday afternoons, there is tremendous excitement as the pupils anticipate their science lesson.

For the past year, eight apprentices aged 19 to 21 from the plant at Hillington have voluntarily come once a week to work with 19 boys and girls with severe learning difficulties in Classes 5 and 6.

The nine pupils in Class 6 (S3-S4) have completed work on the 5-14 science curriculum and are now working on the Higher Still Access 1 course, while pupils in Class 5 (S1-S2) continue to work on the 5-14 programme.

All the pupils are also taking part in the BAYS awards programme, run by the British Association for the Advancement of Science Youth Section. Class 5 is completing the First Investigators silver award and Class 6 is working for bronze awards in the more advanced Young Investigators programme.

Class teachers Tracey Ferris and Jennifer Craig have adapted BAYS and Access 1 guidelines and, to some extent, primary science resources to prepare the year's series of lessons and experiments. The classes's Rolls-Royce helpers assist with experiments on topics such as flotation and hot air. Each group works with its own apprentice on an worksheet prepared by the teachers.

Today's task is to make a vessel which will float when empty and when filled with a cargo of building blocks. As the pupils are guided by the apprentices to try different designs, they become engrossed in constructing their various balsa wood and plastic bottle rafts. When the shipbuilding is complete, they take delight in watching their crafts sail - or sink - in a flotation tank.

Ms Craig praises the skill of the Rolls-Royce trainees at keeping the class working over an hour-long session. "We stand back but it's important that we're here for support," she says.

The apprentices have become more confident over the year, says Ms Ferris. Trust and friendship have broken down any initial communication difficulties.

"The youngsters see the boys - who are aged between 19 and 21 - as friends. It's so good for them to have a young role model who is showing such an interest in them."

The influence of the apprentices has also been important in raising the pupils' expectations of their own work. "It's very important to our youngsters to produce something - like a raft - which looks exactly as it should," she says.

Drew McNeice, the human resources and training officer at Rolls-Royce, believes the company benefits from allowing the young men to take time out from the plant. "It brings them out of their shells and I see their confidence improve. The relationships between all parties has come on in leaps and bounds," he says.

The trainees' three-year SVQ modern apprenticeship includes modules in personal development, as does the HNC mechanical engineering course they are studying at Reid Kerr College. However, they had not anticipated doing this type of work within their training, nor the significant personal impact it would have on them. In fact, Martin Ford, aged 19, feels that the pupils have contributed more to his personal development than he has to their's.

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