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Howells promises fairer deal on funding

Lifelong learning minister Kim Howells has renewed the Government's pledge to "put right" the funding gap with schools, highlighted by colleges'

growing role in teaching 14 to 16-year-olds.

Last year, 120,000 Year 10 and 11 pupils received vocational training in colleges, a figure set to rise this year. Yet schools still get 10 per cent more per pupil, says the Association of Colleges.

After opening Lewisham college's skills academy for 14 to 19-year-olds (see left), Dr Howells said: "We have a duty to close that gap. It is going to take some time, but in the end we have to put that right."

He said the award to colleges was 1 per cent more than for schools this year - the first step to bridging the gap. "We have to make sure that colleges don't suffer as a consequence of teaching these young students."

Lewisham college spent pound;200,000 from its own reserves to build and equip the academy after having a bid for funding turned down by the Learning and Skills Council. Its running costs will be subsidised by other areas of learning.

Dr Howells also said colleges need support training for staff to prepare them for the different demands of teaching 14 to 16s.

"I have seen some terrific examples of colleges' work in this area, at Cambourne and Bridgwater, as well as at Lewisham," he added. "I have never seen students as involved and as motivated. We have to make sure it is properly funded."

Lewisham college is helping to develop a special teacher-training programme specifically for vocational educators of young people.

It is working with two researchers to develop a "systemic approach to the teaching of practical skills".

The researchers are observing practical lessons to help them devise a training programme.

Ruth Silver, Lewisham's principal, said: "There has already been a profound impact on our lecturers here. Lecturers who used to walk away from working with young people now walk towards them."

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