Drop-out net is cast

Government plans to boost the skills and qualifications of young people who drop out of education and training are the first phase of far-reaching reforms to reshape further education and training.

The #163;250m pakcage unveiled by Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett at the Confederation of British Industry annual conference in Birmingham is expected to be followed by even more FE reforms.

Mr Blunkett said the cash - which follows the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review earlier this year - would be spent on boosting qualifications for 160,000 young people. It will provide new opportunities for 16 to 17-year-olds through the Investing in Young People programme.

Mr Blunkett told the CBI: "Every young person deserves the chance to learn and achieve their full potential and we are now developing our strategy for achieving this. The careers and youth services, training and enterprise councils and colleges will identify and contact young people who have fallen through the gaps and tackle the barriers discouraging young people from taking part in further education after they left full-time schooling."

He said there were 75,000 young people out of education, training or work and a further 85,000 young people aged 16 to 17 in unskilled jobs without training and lacking qualifications.

Only Pounds 100m of the Pounds 255m for post-16 funding announced by Gordon Brown in July's spending review has been used for this spending round. The bulk is new money. This leaves Pounds 155m for initiatives expected later in the year.

Mr Blunkett is likely to announce further radical proposals for the financial support of students in FE later this month when he addresses the Association of Colleges' annual conference.

He will respond to a review led by Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, which attacked the system of discretionary awards. Mr Blunkett will use that conference to say that FE is the pivotal force behind the Government's ambitious plans for making lifelong learning an essential part of everyone's life. He will also detail what he expects from the colleges and where he wants student expansion to be.

John Brennan, AOC director of development, welcomed this week's initiatives. "They are consistent with the Government's strategy of widening participation, tackling exclusion and enhancing opportunities for young people. But we would wish to see more detail before we can finally judge."

Mr Blunkett used his speech to the CBI to flesh out details of announcements trailed by him and his ministers over recent months. These include the piloting of Pounds 40-a-week maintenance allowances to encourage young people back to education.

There will be an expanded New Start programme to motivate 14 to 17-year-olds. The second phase of this programme will begin this month. The measures will require new levels of co-operation between schools and colleges. Special advisers from the youth or careers service will provide individual counselling to people who have apparently been discarded by the system.

New National Traineeships, which are being piloted, will be introduced to help students gain qualifications and improve employability. More places will also be offered through FE to improve qualifications.

More details are expected imminently on an initiative to improve careers guidance to reduce the number of drop-outs. This will be linked to reform of the youth service, details of which were given by lifelong learning minister George Mudie, in an interview with The TES on October 16.

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