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Scotland's exams authority is to launch a new course that will see pupils learning skills from fire-fighters, police officers, soldiers, and even the Royal Marines.

Secondary pupils can enrol from August this year in an Intermediate 1 Skills for Work course which will introduce them to the Army, Merchant Navy, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal Marines if they choose to follow the uniformed services, or the ambulance, coastguard, fire and rescue or police emergency services.

If the experience of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue service is anything to go by, the approach is likely to pay dividends for pupils and services. It has run week-long work experience courses for pupils in North Lanarkshire for nearly three years and Group Commander Alex Gordon, head of community safety in North Lanarkshire, believes they have helped reduce the number of attacks on fire crews in his area.

His comments come in a week when the Fire Brigades Union produced a report claiming attacks on fire crews had become a "recreational activity" for some young people, but the statistics for Scotland were more positive than south of the border.

Nevertheless, Mr Gordon said the "Fire Reach" scheme was far more effective in engaging young people than the traditional approach of sending a firefighter into a school to address an assembly for an hour.

Fire Reach gives pupils training in health and safety, first aid, discipline and teamwork, and basic firefighters' skills, such as attaching a hose and using breathing apparatus in a smoke-filled room.

He said the week's course successfully built up the self-esteem and confidence of quiet youngsters. The "cocky wee characters" who came in with a challenging attitude very quickly turned round their way of thinking and were "very respectful" towards their instructors by the end of the week, he said.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Qualifications Authority said its Uniformed and Emergency Services skills for work course will consist of four 40-hour mandatory units covering practical activities, health and safety, community engagement, and simulation exercises.

"The whole purpose of skills for work courses is to prepare learners for future careers, and the career opportunities in these services are not only important for young people but vital to the nation," he said.

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