Ministers have given the Further Education Funding Council the go-ahead to fund the part-time courses and pound;10 million has been put aside for the scheme which will run initially as a pilot. However, if it is successful it is likely to be extended nationwide.
Courses to be funded include basic information technology, crafts, music and the visual arts. Local lifelong learning partnerships have been invited to bid to run the pilots in 19992000. They will be encouraged to work with the voluntary sector and local self-help groups.
Between 25 and 30 pilots are likely to be approved. They will be expected to include individual learning programmes, and opportunities for further learning. There will also be an emphasis on developing basic skills.
Until now, the FEFC has only funded courses so-called Schedule 2 courses - academic and vocational courses which lead to a qualification. Although non-Schedule 2 courses are already offered by colleges, they have to be funded by either the individual or by local authorities.
The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 created the distinction to stop public money being spent on an individual's leisure activities. However, concerns that the rule was barring disadvantaged groups from taking part in learning, led to a widening of the funding council's powers under the Teaching and Higher Education Act last year. The Schedule 2 and non-Schedule 2 rule is likely to be removed as a result of the post-16 review.
David Melville, FEFC chief executive said, "This is a new departure for the FEFC, but by taking such a step, the FE sector can make further inroads into combating social exclusion and widening participation."