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Finding the right pitch

All 12 Scottish Premier League football clubs have been recruited by the First Minister to help reduce the proportion of young people who join the Neet group when they leave school.

Jack McConnell will meet them early in the new year for detailed discussions.

Rangers and Celtic have already established learning support centres which aim to increase pupils' awareness of issues such as alcohol and drug misuse, antisocial behaviour and bigotry. They also provide courses aimed at boosting youngsters' self-esteem and increasing levels of physical activity.

"I believe these 12 football clubs are uniquely placed to help entice disaffected young men, in particular, away from a path that doesn't include education, employment or training," said Mr McConnell.

Although this initiative is targeted at boys, there is growing evidence that a significant proportion of those young people not in education, employment of training are girls.

Meanwhile, Anton Colella, the former chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, is not yet lost to Scottish education. In an unexpected move, Mr McConnell has asked him to take charge of an investigation into what is being seen as, in effect, raising the school leaving age to 18.

In his speech to the recent Scottish Labour Party conference in Oban, which was largely devoted to education, Mr McConnell said Mr Colella's brief would be to look at the options so that leaving school at the ages of 16 and 17 would be "conditional on a youngster being in education, employment, training or full-time volunteering".

The plan is to introduce this significant change during the third term of the parliament - assuming Labour is returned as the dominant government party in next May's election. "By 2012, every 16 and 17-year-old in the country will be meaningfully engaged, learning and developing, preparing for the new competition in the global economy," Mr McConnell said.

Mr Colella, who is now chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland, told The TESS he expected to have something to say by February.

Referring to Mr Colella's pivotal role in the SQA a few years ago, Mr McConnell recalled during his conference speech how, when he was Education Minister: "I called on someone to help me fix one of the greatest crises in the Scottish education system - the exam chaos of the year 2000. I have asked him to do one more thing for Scottish education."

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