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Slow, easy steps to get lives back on track

Foyer housing support worker Kenneth Brownlie helps up to eight residents in Aberdeen, working through their personal plans to gain the City and Guilds certificate in learning power.

"Given that many of our residents did not get on well at school, for whatever reason, you have to remember that everything is educational, from making a doctor's appointment to arranging to have the electricity switched on," he says. "Everything requires a level of skill which has to be learned, though not necessarily in a classroom.

"The range of choices within the action plan is huge, beginning with areas like where I come from, who and what is special to me, how I present myself and coping with change.

"We work with digital cameras, because it's important that we use media that are attractive to young people.

"For example, beginning with where I come from, the learner can go out and about to take pictures and build up a portfolio which will lead to them writing about the subject.

"The camera becomes an educational tool, a way of leading them on to other things.

"Similarly, the person can compile a CD of tracks that make them feel good or evoke happy memories; and tracks that they might listen to to relieve stress or when they're not feeling positive.

"Although they might not realise it, when they talk about tunes, they are talking about themselves.

"This leads to stories, to writing about their emotions and it lets them open up in a way they probably would not if you just asked them straight out 'What makes you happy?' or 'What problems worry you most?'

"We do this in a safe and comfortable way and there are always counsellors on hand."

The counsellors work face to face with each young person on areas of the action plan for at least three hours a week and they are encouraged to put in as much time beyond that as they want.

Each area has specific learning objectives. For example, 'keeping safe'

involves talking about how to keep safe from harm during the day and night and who to contact when you need help or advice.

'Being healthy' involves identifying risk to health and ways to prevent it.

The person is asked to define what it means to be healthy and to find out where you can get help with health problems.

The City and Guilds assessment pack is comprehensive, says Mr Brownlie, beginning by asking the learner to state their short- and long-term goals, the skills they feel they need and the way they like to learn.

A learner support plan is drawn up and actioned, with tutor observations, records of discussions and summaries of achievement, with an outside assessor giving feedback to both the learner and the internal verifier.

"I think these action plans are pretty unique in developing transferable skills alongside confidence and self-esteem. They are entirely flexible as they have to be because of our range of learners," says Mr Brownlie.

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