education secretary Alan Johnson hopes to enlist colleges' support to train an army of apprentices to ensure nobody under 18 stops learning.
If his plans fail to impress employers, plan B will be to change the law to stop firms employing 16 to 18-year-olds without training, FE Focus has been told by a senior Government adviser.
Under the reforms, every 16 to 18-year-old will be in college, school or on-the-job training.
With his eyes set on the Deputy Prime Minister's job, Mr Johnson is determined to drive through what would be a historic reform of the education system.
Government advisers are also studying pilot college training schemes to see if they can be extended to take in 200,000 16- to 19-year-olds not in education, employment or training, the so-called Neet group. Government figures show that, even among those teenagers who are in work, just 13 per cent are being trained.
Compulsory education or training to 18 could cost pound;1 billion. The number of apprentices would more than double to 330,000, with many at college on day-release.
The reforms will not be in next week's FE Bill, which will focus on new FE degrees, restructuring the Learning and Skills Council, devolving training responsibilities to the Mayor of London and intervention powers in failing colleges.
All 16- and 17-year-olds are entitled to paid time off for training, under the 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act. But the government source said:
"Too many young people refuse to train and employers don't encourage them.
There is a need to regulate the youth employment market."
Legislation banning employers from offering work without training was not ruled out, he said.
The Association of Colleges welcomed Mr Johnson's reforms for which, it said, it has been pressing. Julian Gravatt, the director of finance, said:
"This is affordable in the medium-term but the costs need to be included in the next spending review." The Neet group would be the most difficult cost to assess. "A teenage parent studying full-time with funded childcare could cost pound;10,000. A worker at a chicken restaurant on a part-time NVQ would be much less."
The number of 16-year-olds is set to fall sharply from 2008, but with targets raising participation rates to 90 per cent by 2015, costs will rise to pay for a broader curriculum, said Mr Gravatt.
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