THE nation may have been watching England beat Argentina in the World Cup, but on the ninth floor of a tower block in Manchester's city centre, six people were trying to solve an even more intractable problem. How to re-engage that stubborn group of 16-plus young people who are lost to education or employment?
"Every time we heard an 'ooh' from the crowd down below, watching the giant screen, it was OK to rush to the window," said David Deegan, of the Greater Manchester Learning and Skills Council. "And we saw the penalty. But otherwise it was a really brainstorming day. We concentrated on every detail - exactly how we were going to deliver a programme that would hook these young people in."
What resulted was a successful bid to be a Pathfinder for E2E, Entry to Employment.
Manchester will be one of 10 pilots as part of a pound;10 million programme, starting this month. The intention is to roll it out as a national programme next year.
As a recent report by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion revealed, the figures for young people "doing nothing" remain stubbornly static.
E2E arises out of recommendations made by the Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Committee, which produced the Cassells Report. This highlighted the problem of young people who needed additional support if they were to take up apprenticeships, or enter employment.
"A lot of good work has been done, but it has been fragmented and lacking in coherence," said Ian Ferguson of the national Learning and Skills Council.
"A significant number of people leave school at 16 and do nothing. It is essential that those who have expressed any desire to help themselves should have a programme for them. I passionately believe that if a young person has not done well at 16, we have a duty to find a well-funded programme for them.
"We are trying to make sure that in all of the 47 learning and skills areas there are experienced providers to help this group.
"It won't be a 'one size fits all'. We will find the best practice and see what works in each area."
The Greater Manchester LSC decided to concentrate its pilot in one area, Rochdale.
Rochdale is divided into four township areas. One, Middleton, has wards ranked among the worst 20 per cent on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Heywood township features in the worst 20 per cent of wards in the country.
The Greater Manchester project includes a number of different partners, including the borough's learning partnership, Connexions, and the Kashmir project for ethnic minorities. But it is spearheaded by one provider, Rathbone Training, which has a national reputation for helping disadvantaged people.
"At the beginning, we want to show them that learning is fun," said Mr Deegan. So in their first week, there may be bowling, or canoeing, a visit to a museum. Something to get them out of their usual environment. Some of these people have never left their own town or borough," he said. "They behave differently. Sometimes a walk alongside a canal is enough to get them talking, to open up."
Connexions, the advice service, will play a key role in finding the young people. The advisers will work with schools, and youth-offending teams, attend youth clubs and community centres, finding people who have slipped through the net. Finding people who have never been found before, said Jan Pennington, Rathbone regional manager for the North-west. They will go and sit in McDonald's, or drop to HMV shops, to find those people who would not go near a community centre.
Each learner will have an individually tailored programme. But there will be no set curricula or predetermined sequence of learning. The boosting of confidence will be crucial, with all achievement recognised, however small.
The vast majority of the cohort will be aged 16 to 18, though the age limit will be 24. There will be an emphasis on basic living skills: living on a budget, healthy eating, wiring a plug, and so on.
"We might go to Alton Towers, or a Manchester United official tour," said Ms Pennington. "We will get the young people to choose where to go and to plan it."
Mr Deegan added: "Once we have hooked their interest, employability skills, such as how to behave at interview and get on with colleagues, can be addressed."
The learners will spend anything from six months to two years on the programme, depending on their needs. There will be a sliding scale of allowances, starting at pound;50 a week, depending on their progress and hours completed.
Every achievement is noted by an internal certificate, acknowledging anything they can do which they could not do before, such as controlling their temper.
Punam Khosla, product development manager for Rathbone, said it was important to push the programme beyond the normal nine to five. "We will have breakfast clubs and centres open in the evening and at weekends."
"The key is ownership," said Mr Deegan. "You are sneaking learning in through the back door."
Ms Pennington added: "We want to start that fire within them, to get them to learn and then want to move on."