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Truants switch on to work

EIGHT OUT of 10 of the most disaffected Christmas leavers can be "switched back on" to education, training and the prospect of a job, a West Lothian project has discovered, David Henderson writes.

West Work, a pilot involving teachers, lecturers, careers officers and the local enterprise company, has shown in two years it can turn around the fortunes of disadvantaged 15 and 16-year-olds, many persistent truants.

Of 120 fifth-year pupils, 81 per cent have gone on to training or college or a job. Only 19 per cent remain unemployed, a far lower percentage than the national figures for the age-group, according to Alan Wait, education officer.

Girls can often remain unemployed because parents want them to look after younger children. They are a cheaper option than child care, West Lothian research has revealed.

Mr Wait said five or six pupils in each of the council's 11 secondaries presented particular difficulties in their final months of school between August and December. "These are often disaffected youngsters, disruptive, with low motivation and self-esteem," he said.

The project offers two days in school - mostly focusing on communication, numeracy and IT - a day in West Lothian College and seminars on job seeking, time and money management, team building, health and safety and self-employment. Work experience lasts one month. Bus passes enable students to move around. Students sign contracts and agree to follow the programme and attend regularly.

David Williamson, head of Whitburn Academy, who chairs the West Work steering group, said: "West Work is a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between school and work. Even fairly disaffected youngsters can be switched back into the system."

Mr Williamson says the secret lies in focusing on the skills needed after school. "It requires youngsters to move around from school to college, and for seminars and work experience. It requires commitment."

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