School's out for learning

26th August 2005 at 01:00
A project for interrupted learners which combines home-based online learning alongside one-to-one contact with tutors has been acclaimed for its high success rate.

The initiative, first developed three years ago by Glasgow City Council with support from the Scottish Executive and Learning and Teaching Scotland, has been evaluated highly by Edinburgh University.

Of the first 23 participants, all aged 14-16, two went back to school (one to a new school, the other to her old school), five to employment, one to an employment training place, one joined the army, four were accepted for a college course, seven were referred to Careers Scotland and three were transferred - one to another project, one into the care of the social work department, and one into the care of psychiatric services.

Only one learner said that he had "got nothing from the project", while improved relationships within families were often reported.

The scheme, costing pound;120,000 to pound;130,000 a year, employed three dedicated staff as part of a seven-strong interrupted learners' team. It initially targeted pupils who were absent through ill health, disengaged from learning, alienated or excluded from school, or looked after by the local authority. The project later offered a service to a small number of pregnant girls and young mothers.

Sandy Cunningham, Glasgow's principal officer for special needs, said the project was unique in that it was backed up by tutors who went to where the young people were living.

"Clearly, there are a variety of issues going on in their lives, so in these circumstances we are very happy with the success rate of the young people going on to forms of lifelong learning," Mr Cunningham said.

Software for the project was commissioned from Plato, Edict and Glasgow City Council, which helped set up websites supporting literacy, maths and personal and social development curricula.

Some FE colleges helped to provide courses reflecting a mix of practical and online learning.

The vast majority of learners on the programme were motivated to re-engage because lessons were computer-based. However, most kept in touch with tutors by telephone and some teachers made exceptional efforts to maintain contact with pupils and their families. Margaret Orr, head of special educational needs in the city council, reported: "The provision of the computer and the support of an empathetic professional, prepared to work at the learner's pace, were the keys to pupils' engagement with and progress on the project."

While there are parallels with programmes run by companies such as Spark of Genius, which also rely on ICT, the Glasgow project is seen as having been successful with learners who are beyond the reach of other initiatives.

"To go to Spark of Genius, you have to be capable of getting up and out of the house at times when Spark of Genius is running," Mr Cunningham said.

"With Schoolsout, you can learn at any time - in the evening, at weekends.

We are not normally in favour of young people learning overnight but we can track when they are doing their learning."

The main challenges related to broadband connectivity and ensuring that learners did not have access to confidential information on the Glasgow Schools' Network. Ms Orr said: "The daily troubleshooting carried out by technical support staff made a significant contribution."

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