Frontline: Rathbone

Mark Lupton

What it is: A provider of training and education to the socially disadvantaged and pupils excluded from school

What it does: Delivers training and basic skills courses on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council, Job Centre Plus, local education authorities and the Department for Education and Skills

How it's funded: Direct funding from government and enterprise and training agencies, plus a small percentage from charitable donations.

"I once walked into a room and a trainer was lying on the floor looking up at a young lad," recalls Rathbone's regional manager, Jan Pennington. "She said: 'Every time I try to talk to him he won't make eye contact with me, but keeps staring at the floor. Down here is the only place I can meet his gaze.'

"The lad was cracking up, and I thought it was a great way to break down barriers."

Rathbone breaks down the barriers that have built up between disadvantaged young people and adults and mainstream education. It delivers a range of training, educational and apprenticeship programmes for agencies such as the Learning and Skills Council and Job Centre Plus. It also provides education for about 500 young people annually who have been excluded from school.

Most young people are referred via the Connexions agency and, after a brief induction, they are enrolled on the LSC's Entry 2 Employment programme (E2E).

Older learners referred from Job Centre Plus are given assistance with retraining. Rathbone also provides an advice line for parents of children with learning problems.

The charity dates back 90 years and was founded by the philanthropic family of the same name. Now it operates from 70 sites across the country and is the biggest 'alternative' provider of tertiary education in Britain, serving about 10,000 clients annually.

The 'alternative' stems from Rathbone's client base and the methods employed. The former, says Richard Williams, the charity's chief executive, are "young people who have been identified as having significant learning and skills support needs". The latter means learners are taught in small groups.

Roy Mansell, who takes the E2E learners through their basic skills induction, explains: "With maths, for example, you have to help them realise they are using it in everyday life. So if you were trying to explain what 0.5 minus 0.33 is you would say 'what's 50p less 33p?'"

Ashley, 18, who is currently on Rathbone's induction course in Bolton, says: "I just didn't fit in at school - it was too crowded and I started playing truant. I didn't learn anything practical like this. Here, there's new people to meet and my attendance is much better."

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