A GROUP of 14-year-olds is grasping the opportunity to learn new skills for four days a week at college in a pioneering scheme.
Ten boys are studying landscaping and horticulture at Gower College Swansea while 10 girls are getting to grips with hair and beauty.
They are from Dylan Thomas Community School, Pentrehafod School, Bishop Vaughan Catholic School, and Penyrheol Comprehensive School and return there every Wednesday to study maths and English.
The focus of their learning lives is the new two-year junior apprenticeship – a Welsh Government pilot scheme – which is equivalent to four GCSEs.
Their attendance has improved significantly and they certainly seem enthusiastic about their courses, which got underway in September following taster sessions early last summer.
One of the learners, Kristian Beavers, of Gorseinon, said: “When I sat in a classroom I got frustrated very easily. It has always been like that.
“I love it here. I haven’t missed a day.
“I wanted to be a mechanic but ever since I started here I want to do landscaping.”
He added: “I never used to pay attention to gardens and stuff but now I take notice.”
Kristian and his coursemates have already made planters and helped create a memorial garden at the college’s Tycoch campus.
Tutor Jamie Scammell said it’s 99% hands-on.
“We’ve got nine projects to do this year,” he said. “I tell the boys: ‘Practise, practice, practice’.
“But we get them doing a bit of research as well.”
Iestyn Jenkins, of Burry Port, said he preferred the hands-on stuff to classroom study.
“It’s more suitable for me,” he said. “I would rather do practical things. I’m an outdoors person.”
Mr Scammell, of Tenby, said he saw similarities in his own teenage years growing up in Sunderland to the group he is now in charge of.
“I left school with few qualifications,” he said.
After years in an office-based job, he became a park ranger at Bluestone, Pembrokeshire, and moved into education from there.
“My greatest passion is to give some of my knowledge to these young lads,” he said.
Taylor Bull, of Blaenymaes, has warm words for the course.
“It’s a good opportunity – I’m really glad I’m doing it,” he said.
The day I visit the group is a couple down on account of injuries sustained in a rugby match the evening before.
In a nearby building are the 14-year-old girls, studying hair and beauty.
Emily Bishop, of Townhill, said the college environment suited her.
“My attendance at school was about 75%, now it’s in the 90s,” she said.
“We get more freedom and it’s more hands-on. We have done a couple of assessments already.”
Sky Davies, of Gorseinon, said her attendance at college was also in the 90s and that she was glad to be doing the course, although in the longer-term childcare was her preference.
The duo are clearly good pals and praise their tutor and welfare officer, Cathy Rogers.
Sky said: “If I’m feeling down I feel I’ve got people to talk to.”
Miss Rogers said: “These are fantastic students.”
After two years the 20 learners will have level two diplomas – provided they put in the necessary graft – and will be supported by the college in further learning or work opportunities afterward.
Lynn Burrows, the college’s school manager, reckoned there was scope to widen the scheme – known in the college as junior academy – to include all sorts of vocational courses.
“We’ve got the facilities here,” she said.
“There are realistic job prospects and the students can see a route [to them].”
Miss Burrows said the junior apprenticeship scheme was initially offered to all schools in Swansea. A working group was then formed with a number of headteachers involved.
Staff from the four schools regularly visit the college to see how their pupils are faring.
Dylan Thomas Community School headteacher Paul Davies said: “The pupils from our school who are involved have all made excellent progress and are a source of pride to the school and wider community.
“I look forward to seeing them develop further in the weeks and months to come.”
Main image: Kristian Beavers (left) and Iestyn Jenkins, both 14 and studying landscaping and horticulture at Gower College Swansea