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It's working ...

Brilliant" is how Johnny describes one of his latest experiences. He's not talking about playing football or listening to his favourite band, but taking part in a work placement scheme - and his enthusiasm is all the more remarkable because he has until recently been one of Slough's most disengaged young people.

Seeing how the other half lives is helping to bring Johnny and other youngsters like him on to the learning track. By working for three days a week as trainees on the premises of household goods and toiletries manufacturer Sara Lee, they are getting the feel of the world of work. They follow the company rules, such as the dress code, use the canteen and take up work placements.

"They're surrounded by a work environment and it's really brought them on," says Helen Malton, manager of SloughActivate@SaraLee. The Activate programme is a partnership between Slough Borough Council, East Berkshire College and international company Sara Lee. Trainees work in an open-plan office provided by Sara Lee, and each has a computer and work station.

They work a Continental day from 8.30am to 1.30pm, with two 10-minute breaks, for three days a week. The remaining days are spent on work placements with other companies, college courses and sporting activities.

The 23 trainees are all Year 11 students who have been excluded or are in danger of exclusion from school; the LEA has referred them to the programme. They are gaining work-related qualifications, such as health and safety and the OCR Work Preparation certificate at Levels 1 and 2.

Trainee Vicky appreciates being treated more like an adult than she was at school. "You get to see how the workplace works. You get given a task and then you build it up yourself," she says.

Johnny has seen considerable improvements in his studies. "I've been working on the computer," he says. "I've got better at spelling and I've been doing presentations for my folder (for OCR assessments). Work experience with a builder was brilliant. You get to know what happens outside school."

Building up constructive relationships is also important for these young people. They are trying to raise pound;1,000 to go on a team-building outdoor pursuits course through projects such as making and selling Valentine's Day sweets and cards.

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