MSP calls for ‘action teams’ to boost pupils’ prospects

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EDUCATION bosses were today urged to send special action teams into city schools to work with 13 and 14-year-olds to boost their chances of securing jobs or courses when they leave.

Shock figures published earlier this year ranked Edinburgh last out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities for school leavers going into education, training or employment.

An average of one in six pupils did not have a “positive destination” when they left school. In five schools, more than a quarter of pupils were leaving to become unemployed.

Now Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale is calling for special teams of youth workers trained in skills advice to go into schools to help youngsters work out what they are interested in and what they would like to do with their future.

She welcomed council initiatives on apprenticeships and work placements, but said the help for pupils most at risk of going straight from school to the dole queue had to start much earlier.

She said: “It’s far too late when they are 16 and they go and get one session of careers advice which tells them they should become a mechanic.

“It’s no good waiting until they are failing their Standard Grades. We need to get in there much earlier, when they are 13 or 14, find out what they are good at, give them the confidence to know what they are good at.”

She said one Edinburgh school, James Gillespie’s, had benefited from a similar programme sponsored by Vodafone, but the three-year funding came to an end last year.

She added that her proposed scheme should be targeted at the five schools where pupils are most at risk of not having a positive destination – Craigroyston, Wester Hailes, Drummond, Castlebrae and Forrester.

Jim Murphy, director of youth sector organisation Rathbone, which ran the “Lifetrack” scheme at Gillespie’s, said it was important to engage with young people on their prospects long before their school leaving date.

He said “Help needs to be there when kids are making their choices. Every parent wants what’s best for their children and they might think that means college or university, but in some cases that’s not going to be realistic and we need to start working with them around what can be achieved.

“Young people face increased competition for jobs. College places are tight, jobs are much tighter. The young people we deal with are really struggling to compete for what is available.”

City education leader Marilyne MacLaren said: “We run a range of programmes which ensure that pupils get the best support from businesses and organisations. We’re confident this work is making an impact.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com