A SPECIAL school is branching into retail to help youngsters gain confidence and get hands on experience.

Mowbray School in Bedale is taking over an empty shop in the heart of the town centre. The aim is to help give the children aged up to 16, who have a wide range of complex special needs and learning difficulties a new outlet for the things they make and the chance to meet new people.

Assistant Head Teacher Nigel Wilford said: "As part of Mowbray School's ongoing commitment to preparing our students for a fulfilling and rewarding life after they leave us, it was decided vocational and employment related training was needed; training that should be conducted in an authentic environment."

The adoption of new benchmarks by the Department for Education spurred the school into action and they hope The Shop will address the needs of each Pupil and give them experience of the workplace.

"In a recent curriculum review, Mowbray School showed that communication was at the heart of everything the students do. Developing communication skills as well as improving the comprehension of received information is a high priority. Often student progress within school is outstanding they flourish with the support and company of adults and peers with whom the pupils are very familiar. The ability to present children with a controlled environment in which to interact with people they know less well is of huge benefit.

"The anxiety of meeting unknown people and encountering unpredictable situations can all be addressed in "The Shop". School staff are on hand to support the students and there is no risk to an employer's business or reputation if things don't run smoothly," he added.

Initially it's thought the school will sell only products manufactured through the School including chopping boards, candle holders, decorative items and simple furniture."Whilst profitability is desirable, it is not the criteria for success we strive for. We hope through opportunities in The Shop, students will develop employability skills and refine their social and communicative abilities. In addition, students who produce items for sale in The Shop can feel pride in knowing they have produced items of merchantable quality and genuine desirability.

"School has adjusted it's timetable to allow Year ten and 11 students to participate in their option choices on Tuesday; the same day as Bedale Market. We hope that option classes will take it in turn to run the shop on a Tuesday and in the future it may open two or possibly three days a week,"added Mr Wilford.

The Shop is being officially opened on November 5.