Values added in shadow of Euston

16th August 1996 at 01:00
Lurking in the shadow of Euston station, the Ampthill Square estate is plagued by vandalism and racial tension. It could benefit from the ideas being explored by the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community.

Fran Heron, chair of the north London estate's tenants' committee, says: "There's a gang of youths who come down here, take drugs and wreck everything in sight. They know they're never going to get jobs, and they're angry. "

By contrast, a group of young people painting a mural at the under-fives centre on the estate, shut after it became a target for the hooligans, are a model of industry.

Fateha Begum, 22, who lives with her parents and six sisters in east London and is a recent social policy and management graduate, sees the under-fives' scheme, run by Prince's Trust Volunteers, as a way of furthering her job prospects.

"I came here to develop my leadership skills," she says. "I wanted to meet different kinds of people and learn to stand up and speak in front of them. "

The group of 13 spent a week at the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth learning teamwork and leadership skills, and will do three weeks on work placements.

The Prince's Trust Volunteers say about two-thirds of the 6,000 16 to 25-year-olds who take part in such schemes every year get a job or a college place.

All agree that this kind of activity is worthwhile and strongly support the idea, suggested in the draft report by the national forum, of putting practical work of this kind on the school curriculum.

The main benefit, says team leader Ian McLaughlin, is in helping young people gain self-esteem. "They've all chosen to be here, so their motivation is quite high," he says. "They leave with much more self-confidence and much clearer ideas about what they want to do."

Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt, director of the Prince's Trust Volunteers, has seen how the Americorps scheme works in several US cities where young people are offered a voucher for college courses in exchange for up to 10 months spent on community schemes including helping out in schools in deprived areas, environmental projects or working with the elderly.

"The Americans have a much more flexible attitude towards learning," she says. "In Britain we tend to think if you're not in the classroom, you're not learning."

The national forum's recommendations for more emphasis on spiritual, moral, social and cultural values may form the basis for recommendations to the Government for inclusion in school timetables.

SCAA chief executive Nick Tate said: "We've gone too far down the road of consumerism, materialism and individualism and we need to reassert the importance of community and civil duty."

Citizenship education, says Dr Tate, would include lessons on how society works and would involve all teachers being made aware of the moral and spiritual elements of their subjects.

Many see such work as helping young people and the community. Peter Hayes is director of the New Futures scheme which organises community projects in 300 schools, backed by Pounds 5 million from Barclays Bank and supervised by Community Service Volunteers. He says: "Apart from the benefits to young people's intellectual skills, it helps them develop positive attitudes and concern for the people they are working with. It helps to develop the whole person."

Such initiatives are aimed at solving growing disenchantment with authority and the political process among young people highlighted in a recent survey by the Demos think-tank, which has also set up a national forum on "active learning in the community" which includes such figures as former Tory minister David Hunt and Labour's Peter Mandelson.

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