Competitiveness White Paper: New general diploma for 16-year-old pupils: Government reveals wide-ranging plans to reskill workforce and reinforce links with industry

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PUPILS will be able to achieve a new five-subject general diploma as part of the Government's drive to secure a better educated workforce, under the Competitiveness White Paper published yesterday.

From next year, 16-year-olds and school leavers with grades A-C in English, Maths and Science and two other GCSE or vocational qualifications at the same level will be awarded the diploma. John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said it would provide a 'snapshot' for employers and others of what young people could do.

The Government is also considering offering vouchers to all 16- year-olds to spend on education or training. A consultancy will investigate the proposals and a pilot scheme will probably follow. Mr Patten said young adults should be able to choose how they spent money on education or training. They would be given a voucher worth the cash value of their education - perhaps about pounds 2,000.

New vocational GCSEs for 14- to 16-year-olds will be introduced and pounds 31m spent on upgrading vocational qualifications which have been criticised for their lack of rigour. The new courses, which are being designed by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, will be piloted in schools next year. Their introduction will be possible because Sir Ron Dearing, the authority's chairman, has cut back the compulsory curriculum between 14 and 16.

Mr Patten said the changes would mean that: 'The 16-year-old school leaver will be as dead as a dodo by the year 2000.'

David Hunt, Secretary of State for Employment, said that pounds 300m would be spent between 1997-98 to boost vocational education and training. One of the main measures in the package will be the new 'accelerated modern apprenticeships', which will give 18- and 19-year-olds with vocational or academic A-levels an average of 18 months training, organised by employers, leading to qualifications at NVQ level three.

Mr Hunt said that by the end of the decade this would produce 30,000 extra young technicians, supervisors and craftsmen, doubling the figure already planned through modern apprenticeships aimed largely at 16- and 17-year-old school leavers. Mr Hunt also announced a pounds 63m 'training boost' for small firms so that 24,000 of their key employees could update their managerial, supervisory and technical skills.

The White Paper produced markedly different reactions from the Labour Party and the TUC. While John Prescott, Labour employment spokesman, denounced the document as 'irrelevant', John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said it was a 'welcome shift' in the Government's approach to industrial competitiveness.

'The Government is beginning to face up to the importance of a strong industrial sector, especially in manufacturing,' Mr Monks said.

The White Paper promises better careers advice for young people from the age of 13. The Government will spent pounds 87m over three years to provide extra training for careers teachers and careers officers. Pupils will also receive at least one week's work experience before they leave, with the help of pounds 23m extra funding.

Newly appointed head teachers will receive vouchers worth pounds 2,500 over two years for training in leadership and management.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the changes were 'purely cosmetic' without resources to carry them through.