Scheme gives boost to the disaffected

Teenagers destined to drop out of school and draw benefits without a single qualification are being helped into work by a pioneering project.

"Tools 4Ur Future" was launched last year in a deprived area of Abertillery in Blaenau Gwent.

It began with 10 pupils from one school but has worked so well that the county's five other secondaries have signed up. About 12,000 (10 per cent) of 16 to 18-year-olds in Wales are not in education, employment or training. In 2003-4, the proportion was 13 per cent - slightly less than Scotland but almost 3 per cent more than England.

However, critics say more must be done to ensure that by 2010, no 16-year- old leaves school in Wales without some form of qualification.

The local project Communities First (CF) launched the scheme after being approached by Abertillery Comprehensive School, where staff were concerned about the future of some of its pupils.

"They were disenchanted and didn't listen," said CF co-ordinator Nigel Collins. "They would probably leave with no qualifications."

About 2 per cent of pupils in the county leave school with no qualifications, and some 25 per cent of the population as a whole have no qualifications.

Mr Collins organised a series of vocational taster courses at a business centre in nearby Tredegar.

Ten boys aged 14-16 did two sessions a week for 20 weeks and were introduced to vocational options in the construction, automotive and environment industries, as well as courses on motivation and key skills.

The Pounds 10,000 cost of the project was met by CF and the school, which used cash from its RAISE fund - money given to schools where at least a fifth of pupils are entitled to free school meals. Trainees could specialise in a subject and take an Open College Network qualification. Four achieved a full qualification and one secured work as a carpenter.

As the project grew, it attracted more business partners. For example, five trainees were taken on by Quadron, a facilities company, to work with the United Welsh Housing Association. From September, all six secondaries in Blaenau Gwent are signed up to the project.

"It's grown quicker than I expected," said Mr Collins. "But there are still some people ending up on benefits."

Allen Pritchard, deputy head at the school, said the scheme had also boosted attendance and self-esteem.

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