31st October 2008 at 00:00

Send ex-soldiers into schools and the Press suggests you are setting up a "boot camp for yobs".

But teachers who have worked with Skill Force know that the reality is very different.

The charity has been sending pairs of ex-service people into classrooms for eight years. It started with just two teams but now has more than 40. They work with 5,000 teenagers in schools for a day or two every week.

Lessons focus on vocational qualifications and communication skills and have had a significant impact in encouraging previously underperforming pupils to stay on in education.

But how do you convince heads and parents that the scheme really isn't about gruff sergeant majors barking orders at out-of-control lads? Step forward Keri-Anne Payne (above), the 21-year-old swimmer who returned from Beijing with a silver medal in the 10km open water race.

When she's not training, she works for Skill Force - because the scheme helped her when she was a teenager. Keri-Anne was one of the first pupils to take part when she moved to a school in the North West of England at 13 after growing up in South Africa.

"It taught me everything I needed to know about the surrounding area where I lived, and it taught me how to do community work and job interview skills," she said. "And the confidence it gave me helped me to become a better swimmer."

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