Pupils in paradise

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Working one day a week at the local bird sanctuary has helped Sarah Easter rejuvenate her studies. Hers is one of many imaginative work placements in Cornwall where there is little industry. Mike Prestage reports

The best recommendation for the Compact Plus for Jobs scheme at Humphrey Davy School, Penzance, is that there are children taking part who would not even be in school but for the programme. The deputy head, John Pollard, admits that some of the youngsters had taxed the energies, time and skills of the teaching staff and were still not responding.

The scheme was introduced to the Cornwall school last November and has 13 students who receive one-to-one help and take part in group activities under the direction of Julie Allen, a former careers officer. They include Jaspar, a boy who was able but who had little interest in school. He was given work experience at a local motorcycle centre which he enjoyed. It led first to a part-time Saturday job, the offer of a modern apprenticeship and he is now working hard at school to get the GCSE grades he needs.

Charlie Mitchell, proprietor of the motorcycle centre, has five or six children doing work experience each year. "The school contacted us and we try to help the local community as much as we can, particularly as it is so difficult for young people to get a start in this area. Jaspar has a keen interest in the motorcycle trade and showed a lot of enthusiasm and we've given him a chance. I think it is important that local industry and businesses in Cornwall do try to help out."

Compact Plus for Jobs (CPJ) was introduced nationally in five areas in March 1994. For a county like Cornwall with little industry it presented a particular challenge for the local training and enterprise council (TEC). A full-time adviser works with up to 20 young people in Year 11 at a school and continues to provide arms-length support for the first year after a student leaves school. The annual cost of the scheme is borne by the local TEC and the Business in the Community scheme.

Seven of the 32 secondary schools in Cornwall are involved. Participation is voluntary and is aimed not at the most disruptive pupils but those who will benefit most. As well as identifying post-16 career paths for the young people, the intention is to raise community awareness through such initiatives as fund-raising, and to improve leadership skills.

Jaspar is not the only success story at Humphrey Davy School. Of this year's cohort one has a job at a local shoe factory, another an apprenticeship in welding, six more are going to college to do courses, including BTEC and NVQs, while two others are doing transition training to help them decide their future.

Mr Pollard said the scheme had brought few difficulties other than organising the timetabling to allow the children to attend the permanent CPJ base at the school. "Everything that is being done endorses what we do in the school, " he says. "CPJ is not a separate culture. It has gelled with what is done in the rest of the school."

Julie Allen, the supervisor, says: "Students see this as separate from the school curriculum. There are some who turn up here, but go absent from school lessons. I try to show them what they can achieve here and encourage them to return to class."

Clive Ansell, assistant education manager at Devon and Cornwall TEC, says: "We are selecting students who without this support will drift away. Once they miss out on post-16 opportunities, then they are on a downward spiral that can lead to long-term unemployment and petty crime."

In the areas of Cornwall the scheme covers, unemployment is as high as 28 per cent. There are serious problems of rural deprivation. Traditional industries such as fishing and agriculture are in decline in the Penzance area where the largest employer is the local Tesco store.

Mr Ansell says: "In these areas there are families where fathers, brothers and sisters are all long-term unemployed. kids at school are questioning whether there is any point in studying because there are no jobs. We have to convince them there are opportunities."

Sarah Easter has found her career in Paradise Park bird sanctuary in Hayle. Now studying animal welfare at Duchy college in Camborne, she does day release at the sanctuary - work which has given new zest to her studies.

Not having major industry makes it difficult finding work placements for students on CPJ, but smaller local employers have responded. Val Spurr, a director of Thimble, a clothing manufacturers, worked with nearby Redruth school on a project that showed groups of students what factory work was like and demonstrated the entire manufacturing process for clothes from design to packing the finished article. She was encouraged to take part after being disappointed at the poor response by local industry to a careers evening at her son's school and an approach by the CPJ adviser.

"I have had quite a few groups coming through and I've been surprised and delighted by the interest that has been shown. If we want people to come into factories to work we have to give an idea of what it is like," she says.

A problem for small companies such as Thimble, which employs 10 people full-time, is that the visits are time-consuming and can divert staff from other work. But she believes that this should not put off other small companies from taking part.

"The problem is that I don't think sufficient small companies bother enough, " she says.

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