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Supporting region’s most vulnerable children the focus of conference

PUBLISHED: 14:06 26 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:41 07 March 2018

Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the St Ed's Society, and John Ward, Norfolk County Council chairman. Picture: Charlotte Beach

Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the St Ed's Society, and John Ward, Norfolk County Council chairman. Picture: Charlotte Beach

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Unlocking tech careers, understanding exclusions and supporting the region’s most vulnerable children were under the spotlight at a Norwich conference.

St Edmund's Society chief executive Lorraine Bliss speaking at the Alternative Provision: Pathways to Excellence conference, which was held at Norwich Cathedral by the society. Picture: Christina SadlerSt Edmund's Society chief executive Lorraine Bliss speaking at the Alternative Provision: Pathways to Excellence conference, which was held at Norwich Cathedral by the society. Picture: Christina Sadler

The Alternative Provision: Pathways to Excellence conference was hosted by the St Edmund’s Society, which is based on Oak Street in Norwich, at the Cathedral on Friday.

The society, which began as a homeless centre and has been running for more than 50 years, educates young people who have been excluded or who have had a bad experience of mainstream education.

Friday’s event saw speakers including Claire Riseborough, from Step into Tech, and Jamie Weatherhead, from the Department for Education, take to the stage.

Roughly 85 people attended, with expert workshops on children’s mental health, safeguarding and mentoring held.

A workshop at the Alternative Provision: Pathways to Excellence conference run by the St Edmund's Society. Picture: Christina SadlerA workshop at the Alternative Provision: Pathways to Excellence conference run by the St Edmund's Society. Picture: Christina Sadler

The conference heard from Ms Riseborough, who launched community interest company Step into Tech last year in a bid to inspire more young people into the field.

MORE: ‘Not a last chance saloon’ - Norwich alternative education provider calls for more respect for sector

She said the idea came after her son, now 14, picked up strong digital skills from an early age.

“At the age of five he wanted to wanted to use my desktop computer,” she said. “That was only nine years ago, but this was before we had smartphones and iPads.”

She said he soon started learning how to use the programmes - and create his own.

“I could see the skills he was developing from such a young age were really important,” she said.

But, with no clubs for youngsters with similar interests to join, she decided to create her own. Now, they have bi-weekly sessions with 40 children attending, and similar groups have been inspired elsewhere.

The event was brought to a close by Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the society, who said she had been “completely shut down” in the past when trying to raise issues about alternative provision, a sector which has traditionally been overlooked compared to mainstream schooling.

She said, all too often, there is “no mention of young people that don’t fit into the school system, no mention of young people in alternative provision”.

• For more information about what the society does, click here.

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