Nick Clegg visits Isle of Dogs school

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg experienced at first-hand the impact of a education to work programme on his first visit to an Isle of Dogs school.

Teenage members of the ThinkForward project at George Green's School, in Manchester Road, held a question and answer session with the Liberal Democrat leader, discussing the benefits of the scheme which helps youngsters become "job-ready" before they leave school.

The programme is centred on early intervention and provides struggling students with the skills, characteristics and contacts needed for a successful transition from education to work - and therefore avoiding falling into the category left by NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

Developed by the Private Equity Foundation (PEF), ThinkForward was introduced to the school in April, and staff are now preparing to accept a further cohort of 35 students.

Charlene O'Makalwala, who acts as a coach to the group of Year 11 pupils, said she had been meeting with the group on a bi-weekly or monthly basis .

She said sessions with pupils, parents and the school also helped to double-up the support and "make sure that it is holistic", alongside support from professional mentors, including Barclays employees.

The Canary Wharf-based bank recently donated £1million to the project, as well as agreeing to a mentor system, workplace visits and skills training for coaches.

Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of PEF, said such bridging of a "gulf" between schools and businesses would be central to the project's success.

Charlene said: "I think the challenge comes from inspiring young people to overcome some barriers and give them skills and confidence to achieve, and open their eyes to opportunities."

After talking to the youngsters about their future plans and the benefits of the programme, Mr Clegg said: "It really shows that if you have got youngsters who aren't entirely sure what they want to do in life, if they sit with the same person week on week, month on month, to explore what they are going on to do with their lives it has a huge, huge, effect.

"It's a very confusing world if you are a teenager these days."

He added: "For too many young people, opportunities are out of reach and their chances are hampered for reasons as simple as the street they are growing up on.

"Employers, communities and voluntary organisations all have a part to play in narrowing this gap.

"ThinkForward is showing just what can be done and I congratulate it on the work it has achieved so far."

Principal Kenny Frederick added: "The programme is really motivating these youngsters and encouraging them to stay in school. It is raising their sights as to what they can achieve if they work hard and is keeping them on track to get the qualifications they need to do well."