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Miraculous conversion

A YEAR AGO Anna Harvey didn't have a clue how to use a computer. But today she knows how to compile a CV, use a flow chart and browse the Internet.

The change in Anna, a 15-year-old at Francis Combe School in Watford, has happened because of a mentoring programme between her school and BT, the telecommunications giant .

She was one of 32 Year 10 students selected for the programme last year, in which individual pupils were teamed with BT employees to allow them to get an idea of the business world and to improve their computer skills.

The school - where last year 17 per cent of pupils gained five A-C grades - also hopes the programme will encourage pupils to improve their exam results.

Geoff Carr, community links co-ordinator at the school, says: "It is a chance for them to see the world of work. The mentors take the pupils into their offices - a sophisticated, modern working environment - and make them realise that challenging jobs are available if they make the effort."

Their first meeting is at the school where the students ask the BT volunteers a prepared list of questions to find their personal mentor. This is followed by a visit to the BT headquarters in Hemel Hempstead, where the pupils are taken on a tour of the offices and are introduced to the technology of video-conferencing.

A third meeting usually takes place in neutral surroundings, but after that the pairs meet individually wherever they want. The programme lasts a year; they are committed to 10 meetings.

Anna Mavin, campaign manager at BT's consumer division, often met her student, Anna Harvey, at the office. "I looked at what she was doing at school and what she wanted to do in the future," she says, "using applications on the computer to help her take that further. I wanted her to become familiar with everything that I use, from an answering machine to the Internet."

Despite Anna's initial hatred of computers, Ms Mavin taught her Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. They also surfed the Internet together, looking at the home pages of newspapers, as Anna would like to be a journalist.

Anna is continuing with the programme for a further year. "In the past I wasn't very good at getting homework in on time, but my mentor has really helped me."

The school is so pleased with the way the scheme is running that this year there are 46 mentoring partnerships, including 10 which started last year.

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