Jones took charge of the Foundation’s scholars after leaving a similar role with Plymouth.

Sunderland Foundation of Light Scholars head coach Martin Jones has hailed the ‘fantastic’ first year of the programme and hopes the project will continue to develop.

The squad are currently top of the Under 19 National Football Youth League and will face Brighton and Hove Albion’s Community side in the NYFL Trophy final on May 24.

Jones said: “The project has been fantastic. It give the lads a chance to progress in football and give us a chance to develop them further and potentially join teams in the football pyramid.

“The education side is great. We treat them as adults and they come away with a fantastic education, which is a great learning platform for them.

“We’re trying to continue the development to ensure we can keep the quality. It is so important that the quality is kept with the right training and make sure the ethics are correct when they turn up.

“They shake our hands when we meet them and when they go away so it is a learning curve all of the time.”

After starting the programme in September, Jones was pleased with how quick his players have adapted.

He added: “They have really bought into the project. As well as playing football, their work in the classroom is excellent.

“Everything we talk to them about they take on board, which has massively impressed me.

“Within the second or third week, they all bought into the programme early.

“On the football pitch, they have rolled their sleeves up. There are 15-17 year olds in the group who have just left school and after the third week, when they started playing on an everyday basis, I realised that we had something good here and hopefully we can continue to maintain the high standards.”