Tariq Tahir reports on the school-leavers Skillseekers has failed to reach. As the Skillseekers programme enters its third year, doubts are growing about its provision for the disadvantaged. The Scottish Low Pay Unit has found that a significant number are unable to obtain a place and Scottish Borders Council has expressed fears that the funding system is biased against them.
Borders Training Service has used cash from the European Social Fund to introduce a "production school" format from Denmark in an attempt to provide an alternative. Colin Easton, head of adult education and vocational training, says: "There is a group of people for whom Skillseekers is inappropriate because they cannot hold down a training place. They have a background of disruptive behaviour."
Three units have been set up, in printing, catering and horticulture. Mr Easton says: "The concept is that they actually produce something. We hope that they will be able to sell what they make. The catering department could do lunches and work out the profit and loss."
Christine Clarkson, project manager of Youthstart, says: "We were concerned about a group of youngsters that have excluded themselves from society. Some of them are extremely bright but they have to get their lives together. What we are trying to give them is some sense of achievement."
Billy Laird, a trainer in the printing unit, adds: "When they see that someone else is achieving something then they want to get involved. They can make their own products. We are trying to make it student driven."
The project is financed by the European Social Fund as Scottish Borders Enterprise is unable to fund a project that has no outcome in the form of a vocational qualification. Mr Easton says: "Its orientation is pre-vocational work, working with their peer group, relating to adults and building their confidence so that hopefully they can move on to a Skillseekers course. Here it is a mixture of vocational skills and personal and social development. We are not training printers, caterers or horticulturalists. We are trying to get them into the skills system."
He is critical of the present emphasis on largely outcome-based training. "We have to get away from the idea that having a VQ is the be all and end all. How you communicate with others, literacy and numeracy are just as important but are not always reflected in the vocational qualification. The drive at the moment is to get as many people as possible through VQ levels. What we are doing here is at the start of the skills route."
Youthstart is in its second month and already the organisers are claiming some success. "When we had two days off they asked not to do that again because they were getting bored," Christine Clarkson says.