Pupils to get time off to learn a trade

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The Independent Online

Thousands of 14-year-olds are to be allowed to skip school for two days a week to learn a trade either on the job or at college.

Thousands of 14-year-olds are to be allowed to skip school for two days a week to learn a trade either on the job or at college.

The Government will unveil plans later this month for a massive expansion of a pilot scheme allowing 14- to 16-year-olds to opt out of the classroom for work experience or college courses. David Miliband, the school standards minister, will allow a further relaxation of the national curriculum so they can ditch lessons in languages and technology to give them time off to learn out of school. Any school in the country will be able to select pupils for the scheme.

Ministers believe the new flexibility over the curriculum will help to improve school discipline, as truancy and expulsion rates are known to soar among 14- to 16-year-olds. Education experts say that nearly 40,000 youngsters a year who fail to obtain any GCSE passes would benefit from it.

They also believe it will help to rid Britain of its reputation for having one of the worst records for education drop-outs, at 16, among developed countries. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show the UK is 20th out of 24 countries for the percentage of youngsters still in education at 17.

Lecturers' leaders are worried the proposal to increase the number of youngsters opting to go to college at 14 will increase safety problems – particularly as those who opt for the course are likely to include many who have been troublemakers at school. However, ministers are adamant that the scheme is necessary to stop youngsters from falling into a life of crime as they spend time on the streets through truanting.

They also want to encourage greater take-up of new vocational GCSEs and for youngsters to mix vocational and academic qualifications to avoid the new GCSEs being stigmatised as being only for low-ability pupils.

The move is one of a series to be announced later this month as a result of the Government's consultations over reforming education. It is also planning to ditch flagship proposals for a "matriculation diploma" recording all youngsters' achievements at school such as sporting records as well as exam passes.

Instead, they will set up a review body to take a bolder but longer-term look at producing an over-arching certificate that could pave the way for the introduction of an English-style baccalaureate to run alongside A-levels.

Ministers are also likely to ditch a controversial proposal to introduce a new A grade with distinction at A-level to mark out the high flyers more clearly for universities.