TROUBLED teenagers excluded or truanting from school could be taught to be mechanics and plumbers in a £3 million centre planned in York.

The new skills centre, to be based at Fulford Cross Special School, which will close next year, will cater for youngsters struggling with conventional academic subjects.

It will take in about 100 children and will also house the city's Pupil Referral Unit - the centre for excluded children currently based at Oaklands School, Acomb.

Murray Rose, assistant director of education at City of York Council, said: "This sort of thing has proved successful. A lot of young people like taking a vocational route rather than academic route. We could do with the skills gap being reduced in York."

The council is hoping to get £2.4million aid from the Government to fund the centre, with the rest coming from the city council.

It will train youngsters aged 14 to 19 in a range of trades and will work with York College and Askham Bryan College.

The centre will accommodate pupils ranging from those who have proved disruptive and have already been excluded from school to those who may face exclusion in future because they are struggling to cope with academic subjects.

If the centre proves successful, other pupils may also be offered the chance to learn vocational skills there.

The council's executive member for education, Coun Carol Runciman, said: "If you are withdrawing children from school you have to give them something positive.

"There are children who, for whatever reason, are excluded. But you have to find them a way forward. It does not mean you can ignore them.

"This is starting to look at that and say what can we do with them to give them a good start in life and give York the skills it needs."

Peggy Meller, from the Friends of Fulford Cross Nature Reserve, which opposes having housing on the site, welcomed the idea.

She said: "There has always been a school on that site, and this would continue the education there."

Ann Grainger, of Fulford Cross, said: "As long as they are supervised I think it is a fabulous idea.

"The Cross has such a small entrance it would be horrendous if flats were built on there.

"If the centre is training kids to get them back on track that is great."

Mary Menham, 72, also of Fulford Cross, said: "I would much prefer the centre than a load of houses. Fulford Cross has been a terrific school. We have never had any bother."

Updated: 10:54 Monday, October 20, 2003