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Somebody to trust when life gets rough

Two ex-cons are working wonders persuading disaffected children to stay in school.

Dave Gregory and Ian Calder, who once served jail sentences for drug dealing and armed robbery. are mentors at inner-city Oakwood high in Manchester. Their success in reducing the number of excluded pupils has seen them drafted into five other schools this year. And from September there will be six more on their list.

The two are employed by the local City College and target African-Caribbean boys, a group five times more likely to be expelled than white boys.

Mr Calder started mentoring as a volunteer, believing that black children were not getting the help and support they needed. He said he walked out of school at 13 and doesn't want the system to continue to fail people as it did him.

"There is a madness about a system that excludes children only to dump them on the street to cause chaos there," he says.

Mr Calder says it is an advantage that the children don't see him as part of the school hierarchy. "They come to us with a host of problems, but there are also times when kids just want confirmation that they are all right. Not all will be A-level students, but we try to convince them they have a role in school and society".

Both he and Mr Gregory believe there is great potential in mentoring - with sufficient cash. Inspectors recently highlighted more than 140 Mancunian children who had been excluded and lost. Both men feel some could have been saved.

David Armstrong, deputy head at Oakwood, says: "Ian and Dave are more relevant to some pupils than successful lawyers or doctors. There are pupils still in school who would have been lost without their intervention."

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