A college in Leeds is set to be the first national pilot site for a European Union initiative to offer courses to school drop-outs.
The so-called second-chance schools are the brainchild of European Commissioner Edith Cresson. The Department for Education and Employment is expected to announce that the East Leeds Family Learning Centre has been selected from a range of contenders throughout the UK.
The centre was set up a year ago on the site of a former secondary school and has been providing a range of vocational courses and training for people aged 16-plus.
Chris Peat, the centre's manager, said: "We offer a different environment to learn in. We design programmes around individuals and help them choose a range of studies that suits them. The centre serves all age groups but we do target young people who have not had successful school careers and lack the basic skills to enable them to take vocational courses in traditional further education colleges."
Mr Peat sees the second-chance school initiative dovetailing with the Government's New Deal, to get young people off benefits and into work or training.
The courses include cookery, childcare, hair care and information technology. Many are part-time and can be taken at night.
The centre has a suite with more than 60 computers. Last year 1,100 students enrolled; this September twice as many have done so, with 800 taking information technology courses.
The centre also has links with an art and design college which has moved on to the site. It receives funds from Leeds City Council and the Further Education Funding Council. Since being accepted as a pilot by the European Union, the centre will qualify for technical assistance, including help with fund raising, and will be part of a network with other second-chance schools in nine other member states. The aim is for pilots to work in tandem with local social services and other groups.
The initiative, first outlined in Mme Cresson's 1995 European White Paper, Teaching and Learning: Towards a Learning Society, has been controversial. There were concerns among other member states that the second-chance schools would become ghettos for disaffected youth. But the scheme has gradually won favour. "We see them not as ghettos, but centres of excellence for young people who lack basic skills and qualifications and get left behind," said a European Union spokesman.
The second-chance school in Marseilles also offers accommodation for young homeless people or those who live in an environment where studying is difficult.
News Focus, page 14