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Salutes for army college

The MoD is so impressed by Welbeck, the army's residential sixth-form college, it wants to expand it so navy and air force recruits can go there too. Steve Hook reports

STAND by your beds - sixth-form college life is about to get a tad more disciplined with the opening of a new institution run by the forces.

The Ministry of Defence plans to build on the success of Welbeck - the residential sixth-form college which has become the army's principal source of technical officers - by expanding it to create a new institution also catering for navy and Royal Air Force recruits.

The Welbeck timetable includes physical activities such as assault courses, competitive sport, shooting and drill. But it has nevertheless managed to produce some of the best academic sixth-form results in the country.

"To meet the challenges of our increasingly competitive market for technical officers and MoD scientists and engineers, we believe that the Royal Navy, the RAF and the MoD civil service would benefit from offering a similar entry route," according to the Modernising Defence Training report, produced as part of the department's review of defence training.

"The new college will offer an exciting opportunity for young people who are interested in careers in the armed forces in engineering, or which require a technical understanding, or as scientists or engineers in the MoD civil service."

The new Defence Sixth Form College is planned for 2005, when the lease expires on Welbeck, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire. The lease may be renewed to allow the new institution to continue on the same site.

Another option is moving to a new site, possibly in Loughborough, Leicestershire, but any new building would need to be funded by the private sector, via the private financeinitiative scheme .

Student numbers are expected to increase from 220 to 345 when the college goes "tri-service." These can include Commonwealth citizens.

The college has struggled to increase its proportion of female students from 25 per cent, with the physical fitness tests proving to be a barrier for many girls. The entry tests include a 500-metre dash and an obstacle course.

As might be expected, discipline at the college is strict. In stark contrast to their civilian counterparts, students refer to their lecturers as "sir" or "ma'am", work for six days a week and spend two-and-half hours on compulsory revision each day.

The college will continue to fall outside the control of the Learning and Skills Council, despite the organisation's remit as the provider of all post-16 government-funded education for young people.

The means-tested fees run up to pound;1,800 although any help with fees is conditional on students progressing into the armed services. Most students pay.

After leaving the college, students will go on to the technical corps in the army or be engineers with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Students can then go on to the Royal Military College of Science or an MoD-approved university, providing they get the right A-level grades to do degrees.

"The motivation for being here comes from the students themselves," said principal Tony Halliwell. "If they had their way, they would spend half the day in uniform doing military training and the rest of it playing sport. But we pride ourselves on our academic results."

The defence training review is also expected to lead to a "progressive" approach to make sure officers get qualifications during their military careers which are recognised by civilian employers.

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