TEENAGE parents at sixth-form colleges will now get help with childcare costs so they can keep on learning.
Childcare money is already available to students at general further education colleges. Now sixth-formers in colleges and schools can apply for up to pound;4,000 each to spend on childcare while they are studying.
The money to pay for the expansion of the subsidy scheme to include sixth-formers - pound;1.5 million for 20023 - comes from the the Learning and Skills Council's learning support fund.
Bryan Sanderson, the council's chairman, said stopping young parents dropping out would bring savings for the Government, as well as tackling social exclusion.
He said it was cheaper to include them in the traditional 16-19 pattern of full-time education than to help them catch up later.
He said: "Supporting young, vulnerable groups makes economic sense as rectifying poor skills and qualifications at a later stage in people's lives is more costly for the community."
The council says payments will not be made directly to the teenage parents. Instead it will pay the money to the college, which will pass it to a child-minder nominated by the student.
The recipient could be a professional child-minder but may also be a family member if this is in the interests of the child. "If the child is used to staying with their grandmother, for instance, the system is designed to let that continue," said a council spokesman.
The UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe, a fact which has been an increasing headache for the Department for Education and Skills as it attempts to increase participation in education post-16. The Government's teenage pregnancy advisory unit told it last year that free childcare should be available to all those wanting to return to education, along with better sex education.
The learning support fund will also put more cash into supporting ethnic minority and disabled students.
The fund will get pound;22m to bring it to pound;134m for 20023.
This includes money to support young people who want to attend centres of vocational excellence but cannot find the specialism near where they live.
The LSC has set aside pound;5m to pay for a pilot scheme offering residential bursaries for full-time learners - and hopes this will increase the proportion of adults with a level 3 qualification (equivalent to A-level).
The council aims to create COVEs at half of all FE colleges.