When 14-year-old Darrell Rothwell started his national vocational qualification he was, according to his teacher Martin Brind, not a trouble-maker, but a drifter.
Now Darrell is one of the success stories of a pioneering project which sent 11 pupils from his school, Highworth Warneford, to nearby Swindon College to take an NVQ level 1 certificate in building craft occupations two years ahead of schedule. Darrell is shortly to begin a building apprenticeship and will go on to take NVQ level 2.
The pupils were sent to Swindon College on day-release one afternoon a week as a way of increasing the number of vocational courses the school could offer. Mr Brind, who is deputy head of the craft, design and technology faculty at the school, said: "The purpose was not necessarily to encourage the students to consider a career in construction, more to offer them an alternative experience."
The pupils proved more than an equal match for their 16-year-old counterparts. Steven Southern, who taught the group at the college, said: "The work they produced was exceptional. They realised the benefits of the course, whereas many of the 16-year-old students were doing construction because they hadn't done well in education. Many 16-year-olds haven't a clue what they are going to do until the day they leave school. When this group left they all had a goal."
At Highworth Warneford the scheme was judged a success, although there were a few hiccups. The pupils had to be ferried back and forth from the college by minibus each week, which was an additional commitment for school staff, and there were also a couple of problem pupils. "They were not mature enough to handle the freedom and they started truanting," said Mr Brind. "Luckily we kept close tabs with the college and we found out about them quickly."