Estelle Maxwell finds schools and a college co-operating to lift motivation. Two years after local post-16 staying-on rates were ranked second lowest in the country, Salford College of Further Education has fought back.
In an area where many 16-year-olds have low expectations of working life, it has embarked upon a vigorous marketing exercise, targeting pupils in neighbouring schools at an early age.
The local average for pupils leaving school with five GCSEs grade A to C has clawed its way upwards, though it is still well below the norm, and its ranking is now around 12th from bottom.
Through a process of high-profile liaison in local schools the college is doing its bit to build awareness of vocational education (GNVQS and NVQs), raising pupils' hopes of achievement and boosting staying-on rates.
College vice-principal Janice Boothman said: "The publication of the league tables really galvanised the staff. We made it part of our strategy plan to increase our intake of school leavers and we have done so by 50 per cent.
"Twenty-eight per cent of kids in the city get five GCSEs at grades A to C. There is a wealth of children for whom A-level is not a natural option so we are trying to forge links with them at a crucial stage in their development and helping them see the potential of GNVQ and NVQ."
The college has set up schemes aimed at increasing collaboration with local schools, including an annual challenge to teams of pupils to look positively at the city by focusing on an issue of their choice and producing original material for independent judging. It has also set up a comprehensive schools link programme, which has input into personal and social education lessons in years 9, l0 and 11.
Now, with funding from the local training and enterprise council it is helping five high schools put some aspects of GNVQNVQ units into their years l0 and 11 curriculum. Areas it is looking at include leisure, art and design, business studies, health and care, and travel.
The degree of co-operation exhibited by both the partners is remarkable at a time when many colleges complain of mounting territorial defensiveness by schools eager to retain their pupils and funding into the sixth form but who are not yet able to offer the range of vocational training from which many would benefit.
Mrs Boothman said: "The schools realise the GCSE curriculum is not necessarily the right one to fire up pupils and motivate them and they are keen to redress this situation.
"We are looking at mandatory units and at foundation and intermediate levels. This gives the pupils hard currency wherever they go afterwards. We hope when they go on to study at advanced level they will want to come to us."
As part of its school leaver recruitment campaign the college has revolutionised its marketing strategy, producing a range of pupil friendly literature.
Nishma Zafar, the college's marketing manager, is producing a video aimed at the youth market about vocational education and training programmes at the college.
She said: "It is important that school leavers find our information accessible. We go to some schools in our target areas where the average reading age is seven.
"I have now suggested more targeted liaison work adapted to meet the needs of pupils in different schools. Where the staying-on rates are higher, for example, they may be interested in advanced GNVQ.
"For those schools with staying on rates of 28 per cent, we have brought on stream a lot of foundation level GNVQ to meet the needs of those with no or low-level GCSEs. Those with 40 per cent retention may be interested in intermediate GNVQs."
Mike Humphries, the college principal, said: "We are trying to be an honest broker. Our work with schools is not just a hard sell to Year 11 pupils, we are working with the careers service and reaching Years 9 and l0 too.
"We are pleased with our recruitment and retention rates now, our market share went from 10 to 15 per cent of school leavers in the first year and it looks like we will increase again this year."