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Problem pupils to get help with jobs

Low-achievers will learn how to win in the workplace. Nicola Porter reports

Problem pupils destined for GCSE failure will instead learn how to impress potential employers thanks to a new Europe-wide curriculum. The "Me, Myself and ..." pilot scheme will target non-academic 14 to 19-year-olds in Swansea and Caerphilly starting this October. Instead of maths and physics, teachers will give lessons on the importance of getting out of bed in the morning and dressing smartly.

It is hoped the lessons on emotional intelligence will raise self-esteem and encourage disadvantaged young people to achieve in the workplace where they failed in the classroom. The off-timetable curriculum is to be phased in during the school year at Olchfa comprehensive and Gorseinon college in Swansea.

A pilot project will also be set up at Trinity Fields school and resource centre, a special school in Caerphilly borough. College staff, representatives from the city's youth-offending team, and teachers from Olchfa comprehensive, will choose 10 to 15 pupils to take part initially.

They will only consider young people who lack the social, emotional and behavioural skills to be successful. Many will have been in trouble with the police, persistent truants, or simply not possess the life skills to do well.

Eddie Isles, who heads Swansea's youth-offending team, hopes the initiative will be rolled out to other city schools after two years in a bid to improve the job prospects of all severely disadvantaged pupils.

He said: "Not every pupil is academically-minded. This scheme is about increasing job prospects for pupils who are not expected to get a basketful of GCSEs - and who may have been in trouble with the police.

"We hope it will encourage young people who have felt alienated by the education system to enjoy what they are doing and inspire them for the future."

The scheme is part of the European Union-funded Leonardo Da Vinci project, which supports vocational training schemes across member states. Projects in Wales, Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain will share a cash award of e386,564 (pound;267,000).

Caroline Townsend-Jones, external funding manager at Gorseinon college, the lead partner in Wales, said pupils would receive a personal programme. It will build on the work of an existing peer programme, where targeted pupils work alongside a motivating mentor. In Swansea, Assembly-funded schemes have already encouraged pupils to take vocationally-led qualifications, such as Duke of Edinburgh Awards, to improve their job prospects.

But according to Mr Isles, much of the pioneering work already undertaken by youth-offending teams to help young people has not yet been recognised.

Last week (August 5) TES Cymru revealed how more young people in custody gain nationally-recognised certificates than in supervised education.

Inspection body Estyn also said local education authorities were failing in their duty to provide 25 hours' supervised education for many young people.

In 2002-3, more than a third of young offenders or those at risk of offending were not in full-time education.

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