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It's simply the best

Ngaio Crequer reviews the annual awards to outstanding colleges and focuses on the achievements of one of the winners

"THIS college was sent from heaven. It is wonderful, it really is a gift from paradise."

Jasvinder Sanghera cannot contain her enthusiasm. Her nephew Sandeep had been excluded from school. He had been disruptive - there had been fights - and he had been teased because of his height.

"During the period of his exclusion it was very difficult emotionally," said Ms Sanghera. "It could have affected him and I could have said: 'That's it, another statistic, another unemployed', and that worried me. You could see him going downhill and flagging. That is why it has been such a gift."

Ms Sanghera, who is Sandeep's legal guardian, found out about a new programme run by Derby Tertiary College, Wilmorton. The programme, Networks, aims to meet the needs of disaffected young people in Years 10 and 11, those either excluded or who suffered from school phobia. Working closely with the local education authority and the careers service, the college devised a programme that would enable students to work in an adult, yet supportive, environment.

It needed to be significantly different from the students' previous unsuccessful school experiences, yet still include the basic skills from the curriculum, even if presented rather differently.

Courses in literacy, numeracy and IT, and a choice of 15 vocational educationtraining courses were offered. The aim was to increase both social and academic inclusion. "Many students had previously exhibited extremely challenging behaviour in school and had long-term histories of non attendance," said Allan Shaw, vice-principal for quality assurance. "The overall objective was to turn this experience on its head and present learning as meaningful - even enjoyable - so that the young people who had dropped out of education, and in some cases wider society, moved to a position of willing participation and commitment."

The programme took 10 students in the first year but has been expanded to take 20 next year. The curriculum is delivered through negotiation with the students.

Interestingly, at the first review after six weeks, the students said they wanted more structure, more "teaching". The planning assumptions had been that they would want a less formal approach, but this was not the case. The difficulties at school had been more cultural and social than educational.

In Sandeep's case, he had lost both his parents when he was very young and, in his aunt's view, the school which excluded him had never given him the emotional support he needed.

"He was initially offered three days a week at the college, but he kept turning up for five days a week as at last it was something he wanted. He was just so keen," said curriculum manager, Glyn Stenson.

Another beneficiary of the programme is Erica, aged 15, who had not attended school for a staggering seven years. She did not like school, the teachers criticised her; her mum tried to drag her there but she'd still bunk off.

She was provided with a home tutor, but she got bored. "I didn't want to come to the college but I was told I would not be a allowed a home tutor anymore. I was scared. But I enjoy it, it's nothing like school. I turn up every day."

She is doing maths, English, ceramics, painting and decorating, child care, and IT. "I'm hoping to get a qualification."

Chris used to truant and was thrown out of two schools for reasons he does not want to discuss.

But he has enjoyed the supportive environment and says he has to succeed in maths and English as he wants a career in the airforce. He says now he only misses a day if his mum hasn't got enough money to pay his bus fare.

Attendance on the programme varies from very good to poor. But as some had been non-attenders at school, their attendance is very good by comparison.

None of the students had repeated any disruptive behaviour. Fifty per cent of the students have decided to stay on in post-16 education, with the others going on to work, often as a result of work experience obtained for them by the college.

Sue Riley, who is the Networks co-ordinator and works for the LEA, is in no doubt about the success the programme. "For more than 26 years I have been working with off-site units providing education for permanently excluded 15 and 16 year-olds. This is definitely the best I have ever seen."

As for Sandeep, proudly holding his record of achievement, his ambition is to go to university: "I thought I had messed my future up. They have helped me and guided me. I did not know what I wanted to do. Now I know."

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