A CHARITY more used to dealing with adult prisoners has launched a project to help excluded pupils and those at risk of exclusion.
The Youthlink pilot, run by NACRO, is to be launched in Sandwell. School exclusions in this West Midlands borough are around 11 per cent higher than the national average.
A recent Home Office report found that three-quarters of boys temporarily excluded from school commit criminal offences, compared with half of all girls.
Youthlink - funded by the National Lottery and Sandwell training and enterprise council - is helping 60 children aged between 14-16 from 18 schools.
The charity's research director Rob Allen said: "NACRO has always been interested in crime prevention and this new focus on excluded pupils is a natural extension of that."
Youthlink tries to reintegrate excluded children into the education system, but only a minority are accepted back in.
Terry Connor is 15 and dropped out of mainstream education last summer after being excluded from three schools. He came to Youthlink in March and plans to attend college in September to continue his GCSEs. He says the problems started when teachers compared him to his high-achieving sister.
Terry said: "Once you've been excluded, your file and your reputation follow you around. It's always easier to sit with the bad crowd at the back of the class. I feel a bit cheated out of my GCSEs, but at least I've done the accredited programme. I know if I'd been on the streets much longer I would have got into trouble."
Adam Frances, 16, already has convictions for violent disorder following an incident that led to his being excluded from school. "I came here because I am not going to get arrested again and mess up my chances", he said.
"I didn't want to be excluded because I think I might have passed my GCSEs. Now I am preparing for a NVQ in music and then I want to study at Dudley College. The staff here treat you lots better. At school it's like you're a baby."