Students are being offered jobs to stay and work at their schools while taking a university degree course as part of an attempt to encourage those from low-income homes into higher education.
The pioneering project has been running for four years at Monkseaton High School, a comprehensive in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, and is now being offered to schools, colleges and employers nationwide.
The scheme allows students to work as laboratory technicians, classroom assistants or computer software managers at schools, earning up to £6,000 a year while studying for an Open University degree. Some believe it is a major innovation in attracting young people from disadvantaged communities to opt for higher education as it offers the chance to earn and learn, rather than leave school for a job, or enter full-time higher education.
It may also, according to Paul Kelley, the headteacher at Monkseaton, help to provide incentives to teenagers who, from 2013, will have to stay in some form of education until they are 18.
Those who join the project are limited to working for 20 to 25 hours a week to give them enough time for their studies. They can enlist the help of staff at the school if they need to.
Jimmy Baldwin, 20, who is studying for a science degree under the scheme, said: "This is the perfect way to study – you've got money and you get educated at the same time. My parents aren't super rich. I've got their support but not financially. You get that pressure from your mum and dad: 'How long are you going to stay in this house and not make any money?' Now that's gone and it's good for family life."
Suzanne Watson, also 20, is studying to be a teacher through the scheme. She left school after taking her AS-levels to do a round-the-world trip but returned to study for an English language and literature degree. She then plans to take a PGCE course to gain a teaching certificate.
"My fiancé is studying for a degree through the traditional route but he is having to work at a call centre to finance his studies," she said.
The Open University has given its blessing to the scheme, and Margaret Chaytor, who is co-ordinator of the project for the organisation, says she has been involved in talks with other schools and public-sector employers to extend its reach. "Working and studying this way – that's a motivator. Students can see the relevance of what they're doing," she said.
" There's been a lot of interest in it. It offers much more experience in life skills than somebody who has gone from A-level to university."