Works for me

In Aberdeen, where some generations have never worked, a technical background ensures young people can find employment

MIKE RAEBURN's gory stories are guaranteed to ensure everyone wears safety goggles in the design and technology department.

This afternoon, a group of second years are making wooden dibbers, working away with planes and lathes. "They're for putting seeds into holes in the ground," 13-year-old Ryan Burr says for the benefit of the technically challenged.

Northfield Academy in Aberdeen was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the school's opening last term, culminating in a royal visit by the Duke of Kent. HRH knows all about dibbers too now, but was whisked off to find out more about hairdressing.

A technical background is useful in Aberdeen, where the oil and gas industry is buoyant and the skills shortage is prompting firms to visit Poland and Romania to recruit engineers.

Northfield has some of the most deprived areas of the oil capital. A small proportion of pupils come from families where no one works, and there are families where no one has worked for two or even three generations. So building children's confidence, engaging parental involvement through a recently established school board and encouraging pupils to have job aspirations are significant tasks for headteacher Sue Muncer and staff.

Acknowledgment of the deprivation within this community by the Scottish Executive and Aberdeen City Council has led to the introduction of a multi-agency team within school, to help meet the needs of the pupils and their families. This includes a school-based police officer, counsellor, trainee social worker, community education workers and extra staff for learning and behavioural support. "Academically, we are a school that struggles to gain high achievement in exam results and this is one of the things we have identified as a priority, that we know we need to do something about," says Sue Muncer.

"We try to deliver education that is meaningful and high-quality. But a lot of our young people come to school with a lot of baggage that they need help to carry, and at times I think, 'Are we social workers or are we educators?'

"What we can't lose sight of is that we are educators and that is what we are paid to do. But we can help them socially by involving some of the other agencies. And we can help their families strengthen as a group to provide support, for the younger children who are still going through the primaries too."

Northfield provides a programme of vocational education opportunities for pupils in conjunction with Aberdeen College - skills for work construction, skills for work hairdressing and an early years child care course, facilitated by the Aberlour Trust. Pupils enhance these skills outside school and college.

They can also take part in social and vocational studies, the Prince's Trust xl award, Junior Sports Leadership awards and Com-munity Sports Leadership awards, all of which enhance their organisational ability and prepare them for life and work after school.

Fourth-year students Lauren Greig, Kevin Morrison and Rachel Banks are benefiting from what is on offer. The girls are studying hairdressing at school and college: "We get to do styling, hair-ups, that kind of thing. We don't do cutting yet," says Lauren, 15.

Rachel has a Saturday job in a salon, with an eye to the future, and as part of her Junior Com-munity Leadership award has helped care for three to five-year-olds. Kevin says he enjoys school, particularly history, drama and seeing his friends. The girls are less convinced of the joys of education, but Kevin's a one-man commercial for the endeavours of Northfield staff and has plans for a future as a painter and decorator, as a result of the school opportunities he's had.

"I do construction skills for work - joinery, brickwork and painting and decorating. We've just finished 'sparky' and I did painting and decorating at college which I really liked," he says.

The school has business links with NHS Gram-pian, Exxon Mobil and Thistle Hotels - all of which are providing the pupils with inspiring opportunities to prepare them for working life.

Paul Rorie, acting depute for community and enterprise, said: "There are the academic achievers, but then there are the other kids, and we've got to give them something, so when they leave here and go out there, they've got a chance."

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