Headlines: May 19th, 2003

The Ministry of Defence is to give more financial backing to a scheme under which former armed forces personnel work with school children to reduce truancy and improve behaviour and motivation. Today the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, will be in Norfolk to see the project in action.The MOD is to put a further 15.5 million pounds into the continuation for a further four years of Skill Force. Under the scheme, working with local partners, the ministry has established projects in 36 schools in 11 areas of the country. Through the scheme ex soldiers, sailors and airmen tutor pupils in need of extra motivation with the objective of increasing their chances of employment. They aim to improve their attitude and behaviour, reduce truancy, and re-motivate the students towards their school courses.

Today Mr. Clarke will visit the Skill Force project in Great Yarmouth. He has praised the work of the scheme around the country, which has cut truancy rates by 90 per cent. He said it offered young people the chance to re-engage in learning, improve behaviour and attendance and enhance their life chances.

The impact on truancy rates is highlighted in a Leicester school, selected for the scheme because of its serious attendance issues. After only one term the Skill Force participants had the highest attendance of any group within the school. As well as the MOD’s 11 schemes, which now have guaranteed funding until 2007, the scheme operates in total in a hundred secondary schools with the tutors helping more than 2,000 students who have been identified as likely to respond to a more vocational curriculum. One Newcastle head teacher has said the scheme was a major factor in the significant increase in the number of his pupils getting five GCSEs at grades A* to C.

The Under Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Lewis Moonie, said the former service personnel provided important role models and pupils responded to them with 71 per cent of those on the scheme and highlighted as being at risk of exclusion, still being in school.