How angling skills keep at-risk students hooked

Those in danger of being excluded are being offered more unusual subjects alongside the regular curriculum. Henry Hepburn reports

An East Ayrshire secondary is creating "bespoke" curricula for students who would otherwise be at high risk of exclusion.

Kilmarmock Academy's Connect@KA project, launched in the last school session, offers students activities such as outdoor learning, fishing, mountain biking, hairdressing, art and dance - as well as individually tailored work experience - to complement more academic studies.

About 30 of the 600 students at the school have been involved in the project, which is linked to a number of outside organisations. The aim is to reintegrate the students - many of them disaffected and regularly missing from school - back into mainstream classes.

Connect@KA started with an initial focus on S4 students and has included a young person at risk of suicide, one who assaulted a teacher and another with narcolepsy.

Headteacher Bryan Paterson drove the project in the belief that schools did not always try hard enough to win over young people who felt alienated by school. The project has required no extra investment from the school, having drawn on existing budgets. Mr Paterson has also set up an arm's-length body, Kilmarnock Connections, to attract funding from local bodies. Church groups have already lent financial support.

Mr Paterson now hopes to offer a full-time position to the youth worker who has so far been employed on a temporary basis to help run the Connect@KA programme.

He says: "Too many young people appear to be totally disengaged from school and other services, and as a consequence do not have the necessary skills, attributes or resilience to prepare them for... adult life."

He stresses that Connect@KA is "not a base, or a behaviour unit - but a philosophy for engagement", built on the belief that staff can find ways to engage even the most hostile school refuser.

"This is a school that does not refer children on," he adds.

Now he plans to extend Connect@KA beyond the school gates and into the local community with a range of summer activities. He believes that the welcoming approach will encourage primary pupils and make them less fearful of school when they move up to secondary. Eventually, he hopes, the project will cover the whole of East Ayrshire.

Tailoring learning to the needs of individual students will benefit the whole school, he says. Exclusion rates have already been dramatically reduced and last year the academy had its best exam results in six years.

"I want the school to be high attaining and low excluding - that's the vision," he says.

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