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Geared up with lavender

Vehicle maintenance tutors more used to the aroma of grease are turning to essential oils to help them teach 14 to 16-year-olds.

Students on vocational courses at City college, in Birmingham, are working in rooms sprayed with lavender oil while rainforest sounds and classical music help to generate calm.

Staff have been trained in "accelerated learning techniques" to help them teach the college's growing population of under-16s.

City college has been a pioneer of vocational programmes for school-aged students, offering courses including vehicle maintenance, hairdressing, beauty therapy and catering. It also runs a successful "bridge programme"

for disaffected 14 to 16-year-olds.

The programmes meant staff had to adapt quickly.

"Suddenly you're faced with 14 to 16-year-olds, with all the behaviour and hormonal problems that come with them," said Liz Hough, the college's 14-16 assistant manager. "There have been issues around behaviour, but this is where we have found accelerated learning has really helped."

The techniques are often used in schools, but are unusual in further education. They involve creating the right learning environment and taking into account different learning styles. In a pilot scheme last year, the college trained some 40 staff in the techniques.

Essential oils are sprayed in the classroom to calm students. The oils are also believed to aid retention of information, while pastel colours for hand-outs are said to make them easier to read. Fidgety students are given stress-busting "koosh balls" to fiddle with.

But not everyone is convinced. Some students were sceptical and joked about the use of "whale music and joss sticks".

"Some thought it was great, but others didn't give it a very enthusiastic response," said Ms Hough. "But they've persevered with it. You're not going to get rid of the smell of engine oil but, in the theory classes, they find it really useful.

"It's not a cure-all, but it all goes towards helping students have a really positive experience."

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