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Ready, willing and teachable;Business Links

Able to Learn reaches the pupils other schemes don't. Elaine Carlton explains

Getting out of bed on a Monday morning is no longer a problem for Jenny Oliva. In the past six months, since she started an NVQ in catering, the 15-year-old pupil from Shevington High School, Wigan, has become a hungry student.

Early every Monday, she heads for the town's Moat House Hotel and goes to work in the kitchen for three hours. She is joined by fellow pupil Daniel Armstrong. The pair are pioneers in the introduction of NVQs at the school by training organisation Able To Learn.

Last September Shevington agreed to launch four NVQs - catering, engineering, childcare and business administration. Complicated manipulation of the timetable was required, but so far it has proved a success.

Able to Learn is run by two former teachers, Christine and Trevor Jones, who provide the materials and organise placements. Supported and funded by Wigan Education Business Partnership, the couple have produced workbooks in which pupils record their assessment. School staff are also sent on work placements so they can help and understand pupils.

"We were convinced that youngsters who were not academically-minded had potential," Mrs Jones says. "We felt that NVQs - usually done once someone has left school - were so practical they could be introduced into schools."

Jenny says she has become a far more enthusiastic student. "I have never been good at writing, but have always loved the practical side. This way I'm doing something practical and learning at the same time."

Daniel, 15, is equally happy. "The alternative is the food tech GCSE, but this way I get to do lots of the practical side rather than concentrate on the academic," he says.

Jenny and Daniel, who are both studying a range of other subjects, have decided they want to work in a kitchen when they leave school, and improve their qualifications by going to college one day a week.

Part of Able to Learn's strategy involves maintaining pupils' enthusiasm for learning. While they are excited about their new courses, key skills projects allow the NVQ students to improve their maths and communication.

With the support of Gardner Merchant, which won the teacher and management development category in last year's Aim High awards, NVQ pupils at Shevington have been working on a counting project based on vending machine use.

Head of maths Tony Morris, says: "Most of the NVQ students are in the bottom set for maths, but since they started their courses there has been a dramatic improvement in attitudes and motivation. It is like teaching a different class because they can now see the relevance of what they are learning."

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