A safe place to study

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Did you know that 1,000 schools have pupils from Year 10 and 11 excused the national curriculum to attend vocational training in FE colleges?Neil Merrick reports on a scheme that is helping them to spread their wings

City of Bristol is not normally told by schools whether the pupils they are sending along have been excused from the national curriculum.

Withywood School has excused all 36 of the Year 10 pupils who attend the college each Wednesday afternoon and believes vocational courses fit well with the pupils' GCSE subjects.

Jean Watt, the school's work-related co-ordinator, does not like using the term "disaffected" to describe the pupils who have been excused from subjects such as technology and modern foreign languages. She hopes most will gain national vocational qualifications as a result of attending college. "It takes a while for them to get used to going out of school but they enjoy it. They're doing something 'grown up' which hopefully they will study in the future," she says.

St George Community College, which sends groups of eight pupils on two different mornings each week, has excused some of the teenagers. All, however, are covered by the community college's "inclusion package" which offers suport to pupils who are identified as requiring extra assistance at key stage 4.

Two years ago, the community college sent pupils to City of Bristol for what were called "in-fill" sessions, where they studied alongside older FE students in classrooms and workshops. But inclusion co-ordinator Mike Dick believes pupils prefer to be taught separately.

"I don't think they want to grow up too early," he explains. "They prefer separate groups. It is a small part of their week and it's a safe place for them to go and study."

Maggie Smith used to teach at a Bristol secondary school, which sent some of its pupils to the college each week. She is now employed by City of Bristol as work-related schools link co-ordinator two days a week and can see the benefits of the programme from both sides.

It is not unusual for youngsters who have taken part in the work-related programmes to enrol as full-time college students once they leave school.

"It enhances pupils' aspirations and builds up their confidence when they leave the security of the school environment," she says. "Many improve their attendance because they're keen to go to college for their courses and some end up coming here after they are 16 as well."

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