As the country faces up to financial crisis and record numbers of youngsters join the dole queue, the outlook for many teenagers can be bleak.
But there is a ray of hope in Portsmouth. A small outfit called Targeted Mentoring Support Services (TMSS) has rescued hundreds of 14 to 16-year-olds at risk of becoming NEETs (not in education, employment or training).
Its record in the four years since opening at the Harbour School’s site in Fratton, Portsmouth is formidable. Last year, 92 per cent of youngsters referred to TMSS achieved work or college placements and it’s on track to hit 94 per cent at the end of this year.
TMSS only has capacity to take on 75 youngsters, but its contribution undoubtedly makes a dent in the city’s NEET statistics.
The number of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs in Portsmouth has steadily risen from 389 in 2007 to 385, 410 and 421 in successive years.
Kirstie Atkinson, TMSS manager, says: ‘We think creatively around individual young people because mainstream education has not worked for them.
‘Not everyone is academically minded, and schools in Portsmouth do well to reach out to those who prefer vocational subjects, but it is difficult for them to give individual cases 100 per cent of their attention.
‘We sit down with the students and draw a line under anything they’ve done in the past and give them one last shot of having an education.
‘They tell us what their ambitions are, what they enjoy, and we come up with a schedule of work experience, activities and courses that suits them and that will get them either into work or college.’
She adds: ‘I’m so proud of my mentors as well as the students who have risen to that challenge and become success stories when things could have turned out so differently.
‘These students come to us because they are at serious risk becoming a NEET statistic. By the time they leave us, the majority have turned their lives around and have the ambition and confidence to achieve in life.’
Kirstie’s team of five mentors work on up to 15 Key Stage 4 (GCSE years 10 and 11) youngsters from schools across the city.
These hard-to-reach students are referred to TMSS by schools, and often come with serious emotional and behavioural problems which stem from a range of issues including bullying, a lack of confidence and a complete disinterest in traditional forms of academia.
The strategy of TMSS, which is jointly funded by schools for the provision and the council for the salaries, is fundamentally different to that of education secretary Michael Gove who takes a traditionalist view of academia.
For example, he is pushing for a maximum of just 20 per cent of vocational subjects at secondary schools, and his new English baccalaureate award is setting a new ‘gold standard’ for A* to C passes in five specific academic GCSE exams.
‘All our students have to get GCSEs or an equivalent qualification in English and maths, but the rest of the timetable caters for their interests,’ says Kirstie.
‘The government is moving in a different direction to us, but for students who are put off academic subjects it is short-sighted.
‘We need to tap into what the students are good at so we can raise their self-esteem, give them real skills and the best possible chance to succeed in life.’
TMSS is linked up with further education colleges and social inclusion schemes like Portsmouth Football Club’s Respect programme, as well as the emergency services, the Royal Navy and the army to give youngsters an idea of the range of careers available to them.
Courses on offer range from GCSEs and vocational qualifications like BTECs in anything from photgraphy and hairdressing to mechanics or engineering.
<blob>TMSS will be holding its end-of-year awards ceremony and prom at Moneyfield Sport and Social Club in Copnor on July 13.
CASE STUDY 1
CANCER and the death of a parent would be enough to put most teenagers off studying – but not Jamie Harberd, who overcame major obstacles with a helping hand.
The 16-year-old fell out of love with mainstream education when he was 13 and a pupil at St Edmund’s Catholic School in Landport.
He says: ‘I just found the lessons so boring and easy and started mouthing off to the teachers and being really disruptive in class.
‘I’d mostly go into school for registration and then head straight home. I just didn’t see the point of it all because I’m the sort of person that likes getting my hands dirty, and not sitting in a classroom and being told what to do.’
Jamie was referred to TMSS in September 2008, which got him enrolled on a motor vehicle course, as well as regular gym classes and GCSE maths and English.
A few months later, Jamie was diagnosed with bowel cancer and was very unwell. He eventually had a tumour removed, only to suffer the death of his dad Andy, 41, from blood clots to the heart two days after he was discharged.
Jamie, of Horsea Road, Hilsea, says: ‘I don’t know what I’d have done with TMSS – I reckon I’d have given up the will to live.
‘The mentors came to visit me every day and gave me the motivation to stick to my studies and not let the circumstances wreck everything I was working towards. They saved my life, literally.’
Jamie is currently on a full-time mechanics course at Highbury College and plans to work up to a level three NVQ before considering his career options.
CASE STUDY 2
DANIELLE Lander is a confident college student who is working successfully towards fulfilling her dreams of becoming a hair and beauty consultant on a cruise ship.
But things could have turned out very differently for the 17-year-old, who was bullied so badly by classmates that she developed a phobia of school.
Danielle, of Brownlow Close, Buckland, says: ‘In my first year of secondary school I was at the receiving end of threats, nasty name calling and physical punching and kicking by a gang of about 15 boys and girls.
‘It got so bad I became terrified of going in to school and half way through year seven (aged 12) I quit and spent eight months at home.’
Danielle was placed at the Harbour School where she says she had a positive experience. But when she tried going back into mainstream school she gave up after three days because she started having flashbacks from her previous ordeal.
She says: ‘I was stuck because there was no way I felt I could ever go back into a normal environment, and definitely not college.
‘But then I was referred to TMSS and I haven’t looked back since. The mentors were so understanding and slowly built up my confidence on their courses, introducing me to people who had been through similar experiences so that I didn’t feel alone and different.
‘Now I’m filled with optimism and aspiration because I know I’m capable of achieving, despite school not being an option for me.
‘I left TMSS a year ago, but I’m constantly on the phone to the mentors – they’re like a second family to me.’
Danielle, who has GCSEs in maths, English and ICT, as well as NVQs, is currently studying hair and beauty at Highbury College.
CASE STUDY 3
AFTER run-ins with the police and playing truant from the age of 12, the prospects for Nicola Stacey seemed bleak.
And yet today the Highbury College hair and beauty student boasts GCSEs in English and maths, an award in boxing, an NVQ in beauty and has plans to go to university to train as a paramedic.
Nicola, 17, says: ‘When I was in year eight (12 to 13 years) I was bunking off school constantly. I didn’t get on with my teachers or my classmates and I found the lessons pointless and boring.
‘I went for months without setting foot inside a classroom and instead hung out with my mates and mucked about, and got into quite a lot of trouble. I started out at Mayfield, but then I was moved to Priory and it was exactly the same there.’
Nicola admits on one occasion that the police tried to frogmarch her back to school, but she lashed out and swore at them.
She says: ‘I didn’t want to be told what was best for me - anything anyone said to me to try to make me sort my life out went in one ear and out the other.
‘I was determined to carry on the way I was until I met the TMSS team. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them.’
Nicole, of Hilsea Crescent, Hilsea, says she benefited from a more vocational curriculum, as well as the adult college environment.
She explains: ‘I’d always wanted to study hairdressing but there were no opportunities at school.
‘When I was with TMSS it was a first aid course they put me on that made me realise I really wanted to be a paramedic.
‘It’s a good feeling to finally work out what you want to do. I want to do something positive and help other people.’