Speak to any SkillForce student and they all say one thing — ‘it’s much more inspiring than a traditional lesson’.
For students learning at The Henry Cort Community College in Fareham, it’s not all about gaining GCSEs in a traditional way.
In Year 10,pupils can opt to take SkillForce classes to equip them better for real world experiences.
They still work towards a qualification equivalent to two GCSEs, dropping a double and a single lesson of an option subject such as geography, history or languages.
In SkillForce, teachers are replaced with instructors and academic lessons are scrapped, in favour of community projects and hands-on activities.
Year 11 student Danni Walls, 15, said: ‘With SkillForce, we get to do more active things. It helps us in other ways too.
‘I want to go to college and do media. The SkillForce instructors helped me to apply. I’ve been accepted and even had an interview. I am more confident because of SkillForce, it helped me get in.’
The SkillForce program is a charity that works with around 10,000 young people in 150 schools across the country.
It started in 2000 as a pilot by the Ministry of Defence with two teams in secondary schools in Newcastle and Norfolk, working with young people identified as ‘difficult to reach’.
It’s aim is to ‘inspire young people to succeed and, irrespective of background or ability, help them prepare for the next steps in their lives’.
It uses a varied program of activities to engage with young people, taught by a majority of ex-Forces personnel.
In 2011, Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, gave a £1.5m grant to SkillForce to expand its service.
Speaking at the time he said: ‘There is a huge opportunity for those people who have served their country in uniform to serve their country in our schools.
‘They have many of the virtues that parents across the country feel have disappeared from our schools and need to be restored: self-discipline, a sense of purpose and a belief in the importance of working as a team.
‘Ex-Service personnel act as inspiring role models for the next generation. They help to instil in young people, often from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds, discipline, self-respect and a sense of purpose.’
Henry Cort was the first school in Hampshire to sign up to the program, to support the school’s Learning for Life ethos.
Principal Phil Munday says that two years on it has had a positive impact on truancy, bad behaviour and the school’s results.
‘For students who are struggling with a curriculum of academic work, it gives them a much more practical learning to prepare them for adult life,’ says Mr Munday.
‘We are looking to teach them the right skills so that they are employable when they leave education. It’s still education but in a way that’s much more interesting to the student.’
Henry Cort pupils have taken part in a range of activities, from orienteering to camping, cooking to volunteer work in the community – there never seems to be a dull moment.
No more nodding off at your school desk, and there’s certainly no time for doodling in the margins of your exercise book.
Year 10 pupil Emelia Waterman, 14, says: ‘It’s brilliant. When I first started my confidence was not that good. There were some things that I was scared of, like heights, now because of SkillForce I’m not.’
A running theme of any Year 11 SkillForce pupil is their confidence, and this is something many of them attribute to having understanding instructors.
Year 11 pupil Charlie Andrews, 16, explains: ‘The instructors don’t talk down to you. They don’t shout at you and they treat you like an adult.’
The class size is kept small, with two instructors for each group.
Assistant principal Bob Gellett says: ‘We put together a group of students that we think will work well together.
‘It’s about working as a team.
‘They enjoy it and are always asking what they are going to be doing next. They are really engaged and that’s great for students who maybe wouldn’t be at their best in a classroom.’
Mr Munday says: ‘SkillForce makes the students more motivated and it allows them to improve their confidence. This is good for us as it means their attendance is good because they are motivated and want to come to school. It works for them and for us — it’s a positive outcome.’
Other schools have seen the success Henry Cort has delivered with SkillForce and Neville Lovett Community School, Bay House School and Brookfield Community School all send pupils to Henry Cort to take part.
UP CLOSE WITH A DESTROYER
SKILLFORCE students had an opportunity to see what life was really like on-board a Royal Navy type 45 Destroyer.
Earlier this year, 16 students from The Henry Cort Community College were welcomed aboard HMS Diamond as part of the SkillForce program.
The students visited the ship for their C3 program (Community, Character & Contribution) to study different types of roles within the community.
The purpose was to introduce the students to the different jobs within the Royal Navy and to look around one of its newest ships.
HMS Diamond is the third of Britain’s fleet of six Type 45 destroyers and the ship arrived in Portsmouth in 2010, before being commissioned in the spring of 2011.
Year 11 students Freja Clarke, 16, and Rebecca Frost, 15, both expressed an interest in joining the navy so they were particularly keen to gain insight into life on-board and to talk to ships’ staff about their careers.
They spent time with the ship’s logistics department learning about the various career opportunities.
Freja said: ‘It was fantastic and everyone on board HMS Diamond was friendly and helpful.’
The students met a number of Royal Navy personnel and were given a guided tour around the ship by Petty Officer Marine Engineering Tania Berry and Able Rating Mortimer.
SKILLFORCE has a right royal connection.
There can be almost no other highly accolade than being backed by the future Kind of England.
Prince William first came across SkillForce in 2008 and was so impressed by the scheme, he became SkillForce’s Royal Patron.
As part of his connection to SkillForce, the Duke of Cambridge, together with the charity, launched an award to recognise the work that young people do in the community.
He launched the SkillForce Prince’s Award, in 2011 and last year two Henry Cort students were among the first in the county to receive personal recognition from the Duke of Cambridge himself.
Ten students received a coveted SkillForce Prince’s Award nationally. Out of those ten, four were from Fareham.
The students volunteered in their community doing jobs such as cutting back trees and painting fences for a 24-hour work challenge.
Henry Cort students Freja Clarke, 16, and Rebecca Frost, 15, received the award from Henry Cort for painting the community centre next to their school.
Rebecca said: ‘I’ve gained loads of confidence doing SkillForce and have made some really good mates. I’d say it’s for the people who struggle with confidence.’
Freja agreed. She said: ‘SkillForce has given me loads of confidence and at the end of it I also get qualifications that I couldn’t have achieved any other way. I came along to the SkillForce taster day and felt it would be worthwhile and now I have an award.’
The students were judged against eight different criteria that looked at the choice of project, goal setting, and team work, problem solving and demonstrated an outcome to their community.
The Duke of Cambridge said: ‘I am immensely proud to put my name to the SkillForce Prince’s Award.
‘It rewards young people who have made an outstanding contribution to their community, encouraging them to go further to nurture their personal, professional or educational development.’
Robert Aslet, from Neville Lovett, and Charlotte Parsons, from Bay House School, also received awards at a special ceremony last October.