Groups that a college can't normally reach

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Hull College offers community education on some 280 sites in response to social exclusion among youngsters. "We've always done that in partnership," says principal Lesley Agar. "We invented that before Tony Blair did."

The city - one of the areas chosen to pilot Connexions - has had a poor record of attendance and under-performance.

Four years ago, to reach youngsters who were dropping out, Hull reviewed its entry level provision. It abandoned GNVQ foundation for its students and designed its own programme more suited to their needs.

"It gave them the opportunity to think through, build up their key skills and re-centre themselves on what they wanted to do next," says Ms Agar. "It's been very successful and we are now getting foundation graduates through on to advanced level programmes. It won't be long before I'm attending a degree ceremony for one of them."

But, she says, there was still a group of young people the college wasn't reaching. "We knew from statistics that they weren't doing anything. So we went back to the foundation students and we asked them and worked with them and thought about why those young people didn't come.

"And we got two major things. One was that they'd been out of school and the system so long that the concept of committing them to a year of anything was just beyond thinking.

"The other thing is that we are a very big and fairly forbidding institution - you have to walk past Wilberforce's monument to get in our front door (William Wilberforce, campaigner against slavery, was born in Hull) That's why we have to do an awful lot of outrech work."

Last October, Hull begYTRE-an an initiative called the Voyager programme, an intensive 12-week course aimed at the most seriously disaffected 16 and 17-year-olds. "This is a group of kids who say they will come, but then don't turn up," says Russ Warren, Hull's assistant principal for inclusive learning. "It's not an easy client group."

Youngsters do practical activities in vocational areas, the aim being to entice them back to learning. The programme takes place in community and youth centres. It involves trips, including a five-day stay in North Wales.

But all this comes at a cost, requiring an enormous amount of support.

"Our college has gone on a high-risk strategy and we've risked considerable resources to put this up," admits Russ Warren. "We've set mini-bases up in centres and we've also tried to put our student support services out there.

"The problem is that the funding council tells us what constitutes full-time students. At the moment, we're working on three different definitions. They have to sort out the funding mechanism - it's just a mess."

He is upbeat about the partnerships Hull has forged while pursuing its policy of inclusive learning. "I'm on the corporate planning group, which has representatives from all the major agencies. There is a great will and a lot of sense.

"Everybody has their own agendas, but now, for the first time, people are saying it's time that went - we need to do this together. As a college, we can do a lot, but we need to work with the other people. It's just a shame that it's taken us all so long."

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