Ingredients for a successful life

Cooking Christmas dinner for 25 people is no easy feat, but for 14-year-old Aaron Bishop it is better than a maths lesson. The teenager is to serve up turkey and all the trimmings to invited guests next week - including the local priest.

Last year it was hard for Aaron's teachers at Monmouth comprehensive to keep track of his movements as he regularly bunked off lessons. But the festive lunch is the result of moves to encourage some of the school's more disengaged pupils into apprenticeship-style studying as part of the Welsh Assembly's new 14-19 learning pathways.

It aims to broaden the choice of vocational and work-based courses available to young people and have 95 per cent in high-skilled jobs or further education by 2015.

Monmouth has started offering a pilot "zero curriculum" for some of its most vulnerable and underachieving pupils to try and keep them in education. The conventional timetable is ripped up and lessons planned around the pupil. Aaron has set his heart on becoming a chef, so his school day and subjects centre around cooking.

Andy Williams, deputy head, said: "This is all about carving out a pathway of learning tailored to the individual pupil. They know what they want to do so we are making it happen early."

Pupils selected for the new timetable spend up to two days a week working in the community, with the remainder of the week in the classroom brushing up their new-found work skills.

Other 14-year-olds about to get to grips with working life are James Gamble and Kirelee Marsh. James is going to sell tractors and and Kirelee will soon be selling holidays in the sun at the town's Lunn Poly travel agents.

She wants to be a holiday rep in Cyprus or Tenerife.

"I know what I want to do so why wait?" she said.

Her zero timetable will revolve around languages and include French and Spanish.

Monmouth comprehensive has teamed up with business mentors in the rural community of Monmouth, as well as the Prince's Trust, for the pilot project.

One link, with a coffee shop, will provide work during the school day for pupils and also a base for them to meet and relax. The Malthouse is run by Argentinian-born Audre Loubet-Jambert and his wife Margaret.

Business mentor Margaret said: "Young people sometimes have a bad reputation when the real problem is there is nowhere for them to go. This will be a great opportunity for them to gain work experience and also have fun."

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