Light at the end of qualifications road

13th December 1996 at 00:00
When students arrive at the Kingswood centre - a pupil- referral unit in the London borough of Bromley - they may be considered to have reached the end of the educational road.

Many of the 15 and 16-year-olds have been permanently excluded from school, and have just a few months to gain whatever qualifications they can before trying to find a job or enter further education.

The fact the students are disillusioned with school and have a tarnished record makes it even more unlikely they will be successful after they leave next Easter. But by focusing on the world of work, teachers at the centre are showing the youngsters how they can make a fresh start and need not be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives.

Jo Aram, 16, who arrived at the centre in October, wants to enrol for a hairdressing and beauty course at Bromley College. Earlier this term she spent two weeks on work experience at Bromley council and now earns Pounds 5. 25 per day working in its nursery vouchers department after she has finished lessons at the centre.

"I've seen what it's like to work in an office, but I would still prefer to do hairdressing," said Jo, who is also studying for three GCSEs. "It's good to be in a different environment. I really love working."

The centre, which employs six teachers, currently has 30 Year 11 students and eight in Year 10, who have longer to study for exams. All have been told that they will never be readmitted to mainstream schools.

Employers are often wary of taking excluded students on work placements, let alone offering them a job interview. But a project run by Bromley education business partnership in October showed that some companies recognise the strengths and skills possessed by the youngsters.

Fifteen students met employers in groups or on a one-to-one basis before filling in application forms, devising CVs and attending mock interviews.

At the end of the project Anderson Alaneme, 15, was even offered a job by Sainsbury's, but his ambition is to become a chef or an artist. "I want to do something more challenging," he said. "When I came here I was worried I was going to be a failure but the teachers are really good and help you much more than in a normal school."

Peter Jones, head of the centre, said students were not unemployable because they had kicked against authority in the past. "The best firms see this as a leadership quality, providing it is tuned correctly."

He agreed that a work-related curriculum, as proposed in the White Paper, can motivate youngsters who have switched off from education. "If they can show an employer they've hada successful work-experience placement, it can be worth more than paper qualifications."

Claire Easterbrook, an adviser at Bromley careers centre, said: "Students here are desperate to gain skills for employment as opposed to the skills necessary to study in a school environment."

Some Kingswood students are still in trouble outside the centre and it is not unusual for a few to be caught up in the legal system. But standards of behaviour at the centre are generally high. "It's a cosy environment where they can build up close relationships with staff," added Mr Jones. "It is often the first time they've been happy at school."

About one-third of the 33 students who left last Easter enrolled for FE courses while others were offered jobs, sometimes with firms run by members of their family. Yet the centre admits it would like to keep in closer touch with former students.

John Burrell, the centre's careers co-ordinator, said youngsters were sometimes scared of going to college where they were unlikely to receive the same level of pastoral care. To ease transition, all Year 11 students spend one afternoon per week at Bromley College taking units from courses in subjects such as construction and information technology.

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