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Labour vision backed in sector

Labour moves to put colleges at the heart of plans to prevent disaffected youngsters from dropping out have won support in further education but criticism from teaching unions.

The party's paper on 14-19 curriculum reform paves the way for young teenagers at risk of falling through the education net to attend college vocational courses part-time from 14.

The proposals in the Aiming Higher document have already been backed by sector leaders who say similiar schemes successfully operate already in some colleges. Association for Colleges chief executive Ruth Gee said: "This is a well-tried and tested scheme which would work to the benefit of everybody involved. "

The plans mirror recommendations expected next week from the Government's chief curriculum adviser Sir Ron Dearing in his 16-19 qualifications review.

However a National Union of Teachers spokesman warned against "creating an institutional divide for students based on a false perception of their needs". There was no guarantee that truanting pupils would change in further education. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said vocational education should not be emphasised at the expense of academic options.

Colleges will want to know more about funding for the scheme, under which 14 and 15-year-olds would spend some time in colleges and schools.

The party has indicated that cash would come to colleges from schools, and has pledged to discuss the plans with local education authorities.

Colleges will also be anxious about cost implications of Labour's proposals to increase study time for advanced course students, making their hours more like their continental counterparts'.

The party has not suggested more direct teaching time, which would be costly, but has shown it intends to see how new technology could allow extra study.

Colleges are also likely to be given a key role in supporting Labour plans to strengthen education and training for teenagers who leave school and get jobs. The party pledges to continue general education as well as specific vocational education for 16 and 17-year-olds in work.

This pledge would beef up the role colleges already have in providing programmes for those on Youth Training schemes - strongly criticised by Labour as failing to secure qualifications for many - and on Modern Apprenticeships.

Labour has also promised to improve the quality of general national vocational qualifications and national vocational qualifications to create parity of esteem with academic qualifications, paving the way for the three routes to be brought under one framework, the advanced diploma.

The paper proposes giving those "significantly disaffected" with the school system the chance to study part-time at college. However, a party spokesman said the scheme could also be extended to other youngsters who could benefit.

Lecturers at Clarendon College, Nottingham, whose work with 14 and 15-year-olds from Glaisdale secondary school is cited as a model of good practice in the document, hailed the success of their scheme.

Hairdressing lecturer Wendie Clinkscale said: "Pupils' attendance here has been far higher than at school. This is an adult environment where they must motivate themselves, and those who admitted they were despondent at school have responded excellently."

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