Pupils can trade school for success at work
But unless school-leavers are given support, work-
related study will simply postpone failure.
More than 12,600 14 and 15-year-olds have been allowed to opt out of parts of the national curriculum this year to learn trades such as hairdressing, car mechanics, painting and decorating, and computing. Programmes typically involve two days in school, two days at college and a day at work.
Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research, commissioned by the Local Government Association, found that most of the pupils taking up alternative curricula were white, working-class boys.
Schools said the programmes improved behaviour, attendance, and exam results and reduced exclusions.
Pupils' attitudes towards maths and English improved because they saw the link between these subjects and the world of work.
Researchers said that the young people who were well matched with their programmes demonstrated that failure could be replaced with success. "In the process, anti-scial or undesirable behaviour disappeared."
But the survey found that young people could regress rapidly once they left the programme.
The report said: "It is critical that the transition of young people who have thrived is well-managed so that their progression remains positive. This may present severe challenges both in terms of resources and planning."
The research also uncovered instances where the pupil and the alternative curriculum were completely mismatched.
At one school, girls who were only interested in childcare were sent with a group of boys to a taster engineering course.
Students least likely to benefit came from backgrounds where unemployment and involvement in the "black market" was rife and there was no parental support for education.
Most of the programmes were aimed at all pupils gaining a national qualification. In some cases, GCSE entries had risen because students had become more motivated.
The research covered 82 schools in 14 education authorities. Participants included students, teachers, parents, training and enterprise councils, industry and voluntary organisations.