14-year-old 'apprentices' to escape the classroom

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The Independent Online

Thousands of children from the age of 14 are to be offered apprenticeships, allowing them to leave the classroom and learn a trade.

Thousands of children from the age of 14 are to be offered apprenticeships, allowing them to leave the classroom and learn a trade.

Ministers are to announce a new "junior apprenticeship" scheme next month under which 14 to 16-year-olds can spend two days a week at work, one day at college and two days in school. They will learn on the job from skilled workers such as plumbers, joiners, electricians and IT operators.

A briefing note by the Department for Education and Skills says that thousands of 14 and 15-year-olds will be given the opportunity to go out to work as part of the scheme.

The scheme is seen as part of an attempt to plug the skills gap in the United Kingdom that has left industry short of skilled workers. Employers say that one in ten employees are "incompetent". Ministers believe the scheme will also help combat truancy.

It is likely to lead to claims from teachers' leaders that it will divide young peopleinto "sheep and goats" - those following academic or vocational routes - at too young an age.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has rejected calls to lower the school leaving age to 14.

The briefing note says: "Ministers believe that bringing the workplace and classroom closer together will motivate many young people turned off by the current education system."

"They also believe it will encourage youngsters to view vocational education as a passport to rewarding and well-paid jobs."

One idea is that they would receive a certificate at 16 showing their achievements during the apprenticeship. They would then go on to a full-time paid modern apprenticeship, either with the same firm or a new employer. A record 230,000 16 to 25-year-olds have opted for modern apprenticeships this year. That, in turn, could be a route to a place on one of the Government's two-year foundation degree courses in vocational subjects such as construction, engineering, the performing arts and fish management.

The courses are seen as the key to achieving Prime Minister Tony Blair's aim of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education by the end of the decade.

Ivan Lewis, a skills minister, said: "This will be a crucial element in our strategy to reduce the number of young people who walk away from any form of education or training on their sixteenth birthday.

"It remains the greatest challenge facing our education system. We need more graduates and more apprentices if we are to meet the challenges of the future.

"That is why we intend to build on this year's record numbers with a major overhaul and expansion of our modern apprenticeship programme."

Next month's drive builds on proposals outlined by David Blunkett when he was the Secretary of State for Education to relax the national curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Under his proposals, young people in that age group could spend up to two days a week at college or on work experience but receive no formal training.

Last week's annual report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, said Mr Blunkett's drive had helped to increase motivation amongst some young people bored with the academic curriculum and led to an enhanced performance in qualifications.

Ministers also want high-flying academic pupils to take part in vocational education to avoid the tag that it is only for the less bright pupils.

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