MORE than 12,600 teenagers have been allowed to opt out of "compulsory" lessons this year in order to learn a trade, says the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Its latest figures show that this year, 40 per cent more 14 and 15-year-olds than last year were allowed to spend up to a day a week at a workplace.
Nearly 80 per cent of the pupils dropped out of foreign language lessons to spend time at work and more than 30 per cent dropped two subjects. One in five stopped studying design and technology while 13 per cent gave up science.
Under regulations introduced in September 1998, disaffected pupils can drop two subjects from science, languages and design and technology in order to do work-related courses and gain extra work experience.
This year, 631 schools allowed pupils to give up previously compulsory lessons.
Last year, when the scheme started, 470 schools allowed 9000 pupils to do so.
Teenagers have trained as thatchers, car mechanics, computer specialists and hairdressers under the scheme, according to the QCA which monitors it.
Some have been guaranteed jobs on leaving school after proving themselves reliable.
Next year, even more teenagers are expected to drop out of languages or design and technology following ministers' extension of the scheme.
From September, it will include bright pupils who want to focus on particular subjects as well as weaker students who need to concentrate on the basics.
These students will not be allowed to drop science.
Ministers plan to make the key stage 4 curriculum more flexible by allowing some pupils to concentrate on their strongest subjects, and others to consolidate the basics - at the expense of languages and technology.
However, language and design experts have criticised the plans, saying they will put teenagers at a disadvantage in the job market.