§ Dr. Francis
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the pilot Skill Force scheme. 
§ Dr. Moonie
The Skill Force scheme forms part of the Ministry of Defence's contribution to our wider Government social exclusion policies. The initiative aims to prevent young people from feeling long-term disaffection with school and society. It is currently being piloted in 11 areas and in 47 schools in England and Scotland. Discussions are currently being held with a view to extending the pilot to Wales.
A feature of the scheme is the use of recently retired service personnel as instructors for selected children in years 10 and 11 in a number of state secondary schools; and this has proved very effective. Skill Force emphasises instruction in vocational subjects with the aim of acquiring the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation 741W Network modular vocational award at bronze/silver level. Participants also take part in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award; St. John's Ambulance Young Life Saver's award and the OCR First Certificate in Preparation for Employment. The Skill Force scheme is funded by MOD, Department for Education and Skills (DfES), HM Treasury's Invest to Save Budget and local partners.
An integral part of the Skill Force pilot scheme has been rigorous and independent evaluation by the British Market Research Bureau. The most recent evaluation report, based on the two original schemes that started in September 2000 in Newcastle and Norfolk, has been completed. The report has shown that Skill Force has helped to maintain attendance rates of over 90 per cent. among children who would otherwise have been expected to display sharply declining attendance, sometimes leading to exclusion, through years 10 and 11. Exclusions from these schools have been reduced by 72 per cent. compared with those predicted by the head teachers at the start of the scheme.
The Skill Force initiative has been supported by DfES from the outset, with the Invest to Save Budget bid being made jointly by the MOD, Home Office and DfES. In response to the Government's Street Crime Initiative, Skill Force is one of the schemes 11 local education authorities have been invited to consider to help them to deliver part of DfES's Behaviour Improvement Programme. A decision from the London education authorities on whether they wish to use Skill Force is expected shortly.