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Training blow to teenagers

Vocational centre forced to close leaving disaffected children in tears. Joe Clancy reports

A training centre providing a pathway to apprenticeships and college courses for hundreds of disaffected teenagers has been forced to close after receiving a double blow.

The privately-run Silverdale vocational centre in Salford, was providing 335 courses in construction, catering, hairdressing and landscape gardening to 14 to 16-year-olds who were struggling at school.

But it shut last Friday and has little hope of re-opening after having its funding withdrawn by the Learning and Skills Council, and after the local council refused to extend the lease on its premises.

Frank Hankinson, managing director of Partners in the Community, which ran the programme, said: "There were teenagers with tears in their eyes when they left here for the last time.

"These are disaffected kids sent to us by local schools who could not cope with them and who were happy to send them to us. They are supposed to continue their courses in local colleges, but I can't see them lasting five minutes in a college environment."

Greater Manchester LSC has provided pound;500,000 in setting up and running the centre over the past two years.

A disused primary school was converted into a purpose-built vocational training centre, complete with workshops and a sophisticated security system.

The LSC dealt the first blow leading to its closure in February when it was announced that subsidies for places at the centre would end in July.

Mr Hankinson said he proposed to keep the centre running by increasing the number of places available to Salford schools, but they were dealt a second blow when Salford council would offer them only a short-term lease on the premises.

He claims a 90 per cent success rate in progressing pupils at 16 into apprenticeships, jobs and full-time college courses. His company also runs a vocational centre in neighbouring Manchester for 200 pupils, which continues to operate.

He added: "This comes at a time when the Government is encouraging more vocational pathways in schools, and also when there is not the capacity with other training providers in Salford to sustain the numbers of pupils applying for courses.

"Given that there are three Salford secondary schools in special measures and at least one of them is struggling with a high level of pupil disaffection, we would have suggested that Silverdale could provide places and contribute to turning the schools around.

"We employ 11 Salford residents and the skills they have developed will also disappear."

Salford city council's lead member for education, Keith Mann, said: "The city council has supported courses offered by Partners in the Community at Silverdale in recent years, but many of these courses are now offered by other providers in the city.

"All premises owned by the city council are subject to a comprehensive property review, and it is prudent only a short-term lease is offered on Silverdale as it may need to be retained for alternative uses in the future."

Greater Manchester LSC said in a statement: "It has always been the council's and our partner's expectation that the subsidy from the area-wide funds would reduce year on year and that the centre would become self-financing.

"The delivery of the activity will be spread across a number of colleges and providers to meet the needs of learners in the area."

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