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Many rivers to cross

A new scheme for the disadvantaged has laid stepping stones towards work-based training. Helen Hague reports

You can't get HIV from sharing cutlery. It's not a good idea to dry your clothes near the fire. If you want your body pierced or tattooed, go to a professional. Safe sex is the responsibility of both parties. Eating five portions of fruit or vegetables every day is good for you...

This miscellany of useful facts and tips is going down well with the mixed group of lively Liverpool teenagers taking part in a well-being workshop, the aim of which is to equip young people with independent living skills.

The workshop is part of E2E (it stands for Entry to Employment), a programme designed to help those who aren't quite ready to move on to work or further learning.

There's a lot riding on E2E. Ministers hope it will transform young people's life chances and the national skills base: social inclusion meets bridging the skills gap, two key government goals merged into one programme.

And it is booming in Greater Merseyside: more than 2,100 learners are already involved - 7 per cent of the national cohort. The number is set to rise, and hopes are high that it will deliver.

Elaine Bowker, director of learning programmes at the Greater Merseyside learning and skills council, says E2E "has reached out to kids who are not coming into learning", through referrals from the Connexions service. As well as developing E2E, Merseyside's learning and skills council is one of three test-bed areas - the others are Birmingham and Solihull and Sussex - chosen to speed up the reforms in Success for All.

Birmingham and Solihull is looking at new approaches to funding, planning and management and at ideas for staff and curriculum development.

Sussex LSC is working on ways in which strategic area reviews can help schools and colleges work together.

Merseyside is piloting new learning materials and bureaucracy-busting measures as a result of Success For All, the Government's strategy for reforming FE and training.

Each of the three councils is developing and trying out teaching materials for four curriculum areas: business studies, construction, entry to employment and science.

All four subject areas are deemed to play a vital role in the economy and likely to promote greater social inclusion as well as facilitate progression into higher education. Crucially, inspections have revealed weaknesses in all four.

Greater Merseyside is investing heavily in E2E and will be spending pound;11 million on the scheme in its first year. The local LSC has contractual deals with 12 leading providers, who take the administrative burden away from the smaller partners they work with to deliver the programme across the region. Knowsley Community College has selflessly taken on the additional paperwork, dealing with the monitoring, returns and other administrative tasks for all the E2E work-based learning providers in the borough. There has been no stampede from other colleges looking to follow suit, but then Knowsley's principal is Sir George Sweeney, chair of the bureaucracy task force.

E2E is one of the four priority curriculum areas for new materials which the Standards Unit intends should transform teaching and learning in the sector. Importantly, providers are using these resources to assess the personal and social skills of young people who join up.

Making a correct assessment of learners' needs is vital to the successful design of a programme tailored to individual requirements. Typically, E2E learners face many barriers to learning - erratic attendance at school, say, or homelessness - so accurate assessment of their needs is essential.

Providers on Merseyside are being encouraged to adapt the materials for particular learner groups and suggest changes before the programme is introduced nationally this autumn.

The materials are innovative, learner-centred and much needed, say many of Liverpool's pilot providers. Diane Blake of JHP Training, says: "We've been saying for years that you can't just fit these youngsters into standard courses. The initial assessment materials seem spot on."

Kate Smith, a team leader at Sysco Training, says the "ice-breaker" materials are especially helpful in building confidence in group work with youngsters. "When young people have been disengaged from education for a long time, the first day can be quite dramatic and nerve-wracking," she says.

Pete Cummings, with a background in youth and social work, is E2E co-ordinator at the Vocational College, the largest E2E provider in the area. He believes the scheme's learner-centred and individually tailored approach is a big step forward from earlier programmes. He says it will address the needs of disaffected learners who lack familiarity with the world of work rather than trying to slot them into mass programmes. "There is less box-ticking, more engagement with individual needs and aspirations," he says.

He is impressed by the assessment materials and cites the Lifeplan, a non-judgmental mapping exercise that encourages learners to break away from damaging cycles of behaviour and look at their future with a fresh eye.

"I've worked with young people who've been labelled 'programme-hoppers'

because they try to sample a number of things," he says. "E2E doesn't pathologise this - it recognises it as a reality in young people's lives."

For many youngsters on the programme there are deficits in social and personal skills, and these will have to be addressed before they can progress towards work-based learning, says Mr Cummings. He is one of many who believe the new materials will help providers to support disaffected learners in making that huge leap.

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