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Taste of real world works wonders

Eighteen months ago Ruffwood school had the worst attendance in the country. Today it is one of our 100 most improved schools.

Staff at the Knowsley comprehensive put the dramatic turnaround down to a pioneering vocational programme.

Ruffwood is part of Knowsley's 14-19 collegiate, which allows year 10 and 11 students in the Merseyside borough to take vocational courses, GCSEs and work placements outside school.

Attendance at the 11-16 school, which has around 1,000 pupils has risen from 81 per cent - the lowest in England - in December 2003 to to 89 per cent, close to the average for Knowsley secondaries of 90.2 per cent. The national average is is 93.4 per cent.

Head Brian Dixon said: "Getting the children to do vocational courses makes them want to come to us: they do not see it as more school."

Inspectors this month praised Knowsley's 14-19 courses as outstanding.The proportion of students staying in education post-16 across the borough has risen from 61 per cent in 2002 to 66 per cent last year.

The 14-19 collegiate was launched in 2001 and involves 11 secondary, two special schools and a vocational skills centre at Knowsley community FE college.

At the college there are now 760 14 to 16-year-olds. Paul Smith, pre-16 manager at the college, said: "There are no bells hurrying pupils to lessons here but some cannot cope with this independence and might go on to a full-time work placement."

There are also 300 Knowsley pupils on the key stage 4 work-based programme, which allows students to do work placements of up to five days.

Twenty-one year 10 and 11 pupils from Knowsley Hey school are on full-time placements at garages, hairdressers, and painting and decorating firms.

Head Mary Belchem said: "These were disaffected students we were in danger of losing. About 65 per cent have stayed on the placements. They come to school and we bus them to the placements. It has been wonderful watching them blossom."

In Sheffield, the city's 27 comprehensives have linked with Sheffield college and local firms to offer vocational courses and apprenticeships to pupils.

From September at Newfield school in Sheffield, Thursdays will be dedicated to off-site vocational work. Head Ken Yeates said: "I am desperate to make courses available that are relevant to the students."

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