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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 08:30 GMT
An early taste of the real world
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

Nixon Tod addressing the group
Nixon Tod talks to the children like they are adults
Lecturer Nixon Tod is a life-long Manchester City fan.

Schoolboy Daniel is, to put it mildly, a Manchester United obsessive.

Cue a heated debate about whose team is best, the type of banter heard in offices and factories the length and breadth of Britain.

Daniel, aged 15 and wearing a Man Utd home strip, cheerfully sings "two-nil, two-nil", a reminder of the result the last time his and Nixon's sides met.

Tasters

Daniel is one of a group of four teenagers starting a six-week, part-time "taster" course in 3D - design using three-dimensional materials - at City College Manchester (CCM).

They, and around 400 other 14 to 16-year-olds from the area, are spending a few hours a week there, as part of a programme called Carousel.

Boy creating design
Pupils etch their own designs to cut out using a hot wire

The children do not wear uniform and they refer to the staff by their first names.

Many are bored by school, its hierarchies and academic demands.

Some become disruptive.

Most of Manchester's 23 secondary schools are paying CCM to offer pupils something different: new subjects, a new atmosphere.

Sculptures

Daniel's group, from Newall Green High School, starts by designing and cutting out polystyrene shapes using a hotwire machine.

Nixon explains the dangers of messing about and the children are under way.

Unsurprisingly, Daniel creates a "Man Utd" sculpture of letters.

Nixon Tod
The kids we get here are a real mixture. Some are very proud to be out of school and feel there's a different vibe here
Nixon Tod, lecturer

Schoolmate Louise, 15, puts together a floral design, which she paints in bright colours.

The atmosphere is jovial, but each child is expected to work quickly during the two hours they are there.

This is the Newall Green group's second taster course, having done car maintenance last term.

Louise said: "It's better than lessons in school. I've met different people and gone somewhere new.

'No kids'

"Unlike school, there aren't lots of little girls running around. I want to be away from the little kids.

"They talk to you here like you're a proper person. I would go to college all the time if I could."

"Mature" students before their time, then?

The organisers of the Carousel project hope children's behaviour will improve and that they will work harder at school, having had a glimpse of where qualifications like GCSE English and maths can take them.

Girl using cutting machine
The group starts with relatively simple polystyrene sculptures

Pupils get to sample hairdressing, construction, fitness training and beauty therapy.

Jacqui Watkinson, the "learning mentor" who accompanies the Newall Green group to college, said: "Some of them would like to come here all the time. Some of them just don't like school.

"One boy, who was very badly behaved, did a course. He had been sent out of virtually every lesson beforehand.

"But after coming to the college his behaviour at school improved beyond recognition.

"He's also been doing a part-time work placement and now has a Saturday job."

In the 3D class, the pupils are applying the finishing touches to their polystyrene sculptures.

Moving on

As they are doing so, Nixon moves them on to their next task, using three materials - wood, plastic and metal.

Full of potentially mischievous energy, the pupils have no time to become distracted.

Nixon said: "The kids we get here are a real mixture. Some are very proud to be out of school and feel there's a different vibe here.

"They don't have to wear uniforms if they come for the whole day and we call each other by first names.

Marie Stock
They like doing something that's totally different
Marie Stocks, project leader

"Some of them clearly find it better here. We don't get to know a lot about them beforehand, though, and sometimes that would be nice.

"Most of our regular students are over 19, in their 20s or 30s, and are already motivated. We have to adapt our teaching techniques, which is interesting."

The Carousel programme is mainly for pupils not expected to do well in their GCSEs.

In the first year, they do the taster courses. In the second, they specialise, taking a vocational qualification in one of the subjects.

CCM's 14-16 team leader, Marie Stocks, said: "It's something that's achievable for them. We are trying to make it more work-related as that's where the whole curriculum's going.

"They enjoy it. Sometimes the boys experience hairdressing and they are really good at it. They like doing something that's totally different.

"The lecturers have taken to it very well. They haven't come to college to teach 14 to 16-year-olds but they see the relevance in getting them younger and getting them interested in their subjects.

"This helps the pupils who don't see school as a be-all and end-all. Put them in a college environment and they change totally."

Meanwhile, the banter over the Manchester derby match result continues.

"Your lot will never catch Chelsea anyway," chirps Nixon to Daniel.

True fan that he is, Daniel is not giving up hope.


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