Hope for those who don't believe employment is for them

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Sally had been truanting from school since Year 8 but she had long nursed the ambition of being a travel agent. In Year 11 she was referred by her school to Rathbone Community Initiative, a voluntary agency based in Manchester which "helps people with special educational and training needs to reach their full potential".

As part of Rathbone's "Choices" project, disaffected young people under 16, those excluded, truanting or under-achieving, are offered day-release work experience with the support of the agency's vocational advisers Sally's one-day-a-week with a travel agent had a dramatic effect. She returned to full school attendance on the other four days and now aspires to a Modern Apprenticeship.

She said: "I really enjoyed it and I thought to myself...If I don't go back to school and get the grades, I'll never be able to work in a travel agency, which is what I wanted to do" Sally's case is one of many outlined in a Department for Education and Employment-funded evaluation by Manchester Metropolitan University of the Rathbone CI 'Choices' initiative. Martin's is another.

Martin was "resentful" of school and his behaviour was poor, largely due to his "difficult" home circumstances. Referred to Rathbone CI he chose to work day-release in catering and went on to apply for the army catering corps. His catering supervisor regarded him as a willing and able worker: "He took a real interest in his work and learned a lot while he has been here." Although Martin's school attendance remained erratic it was felt he was "getting a feel for working life and learning how to learn in the workplace at least".

At a project in inner-city Salford, 25 pupils from Lowry High School, an 11-16 comprehensive now under special measures, are also referred for day release under "Choices".

Pupils are given a work placement one-day-a-week for four weeks, and this is extended if they are successful. The needs of each pupil are assessed prior to placement and they are given the opportunity to acquire job-search techniques such as interview skills and writing CVs as well as gaining certification in literacy and numeracy.

Specific needs identified by Rathbone are addressed by the school and vice versa. Margaret Shelton, Lowry's headteacher, said: " Many of these children have a difficult life and they have no self-esteem, they might come from a family where no adult is working, they don't think employment is for them This project helps them leave school with a belief that they can work."

They are given certification relating to their success such as how punctual or polite they've been. Rathbone CI estimates that 70 per cent of pupils attending its Wigan project "achieve positively".

Rathbone also liaises between the employer, the young person and other agencies they might be involved with.. Anne Weinstock, Rathbone's chief executive, said: "We do the troubleshooting between housing, problems at home, court. Employers don't want to deal with different agencies. They want one person to deal with it all." However, Manchester Metropolitan University's evaluation highlights short-term funding mechanisms as the chief barrier to success.

One local education authority representative is quoted as saying: "To be blunt we have a whole range of organisations offering services for disaffected pupils. . . some of which are competing with the local authority. . . it represents real difficulties. . . the situation is competitive. . . they are largely unaccountable. . . we have no way of knowing what the quality is" Lobbying is intense on these issues and Anne Weinstock, Rathbone's chief executive, met ministers last week to discuss funding difficulties. She said: "The managers of our projects are having to spend an inordinate amount of time finding funding - Pounds 20,000 here and Pounds 20,00 there. This should be mainstream funded."

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