§ Patrick Mercer
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on the expansion of his Department's sponsored Skill Force initiative to assist under-achieving youngsters in schools. 
§ Dr. Moonie
The Skill Force scheme forms part of the Ministry of Defence's contribution to 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.
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 among participating children in these schools have been reduced by 72 per cent. compared with those predicted by the head teachers at the start of the scheme. A copy of the full report will be placed in the Library of the House.
The positive results from the independent evaluation have encouraged DIES to work with the MOD in offering Skill Force more widely. 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. The LEAs concerned have all been in discussions with the MOD and a final decision on locations and schools is expected to be made in the next month. In addition, discussions are currently being held with a view to extending the pilot scheme to Wales. A decision is expected shortly.