Secondary schools to teach degree-level courses. Michael Shaw reports
Secondary schools are to be funded to teach university-level courses to their brighter pupils.
The Government's White Paper on 14-19 education will encourage pupils to sit degree modules at school. The legislation required to provide the funding is being debated in the education Bill, now in the House of Lords.
More than 800 pupils in 60 secondaries are studying Open University modules as part of a pilot project called the young applicants in school scheme (YASS).
Parental contributions or funding from other initiatives, such as the Excellence in Cities programme, pay for the courses, which can cost up to pound;475 per pupil. The legislation will allow schools to fund modules via their local learning and skills council.
Heads believe the change, due in September, will increase take-up of degree-level courses in schools.
The popularity of the courses will be boosted by the Government's White Paper on 14-19 education. It is expected to accept the Tomlinson inquiry's recommendation that pupils should get credit for higher education modules they take at school.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"It is going to be very widely taken up. We will see a small number of students doing the courses, but in a substantial number of schools."
The courses have been backed by the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth and the Specialist Schools Trust, which will promote the Open University's modules to member schools.
Pupils do nearly all of the studying for the modules on their own, but can usually get help from their teachers. They can use the credits towards a full OU degree, but most use them to bolster their application to university. listing the credits alongside A-levels and GCSEs on their Ucas form.
The trust was sending a pamphlet to its 2,400 affiliated schools today urging them to consider joining YASS, saying it will improve their chances of retaining specialist status.
Monkseaton language college in North Tyneside, has been pioneering the use of OU courses since 1996 and around 10 per cent of sixth-formers now take them each year.
Iain Martin, 16, is taking a "discovering science" course, equivalent to a sixth of a degree, as well as A-levels in French, history, maths and chemistry. He does most of the work at home, using the OU's books, DVDs and website. He also meets a tutor at school once a week and regularly gets help from science teachers. "School can get a bit boring and a bit repetitive sometimes. This makes you learn and think on your own," he said.
Schools offering the courses include King Alfred's sports college in Wantage, Oxfordshire. Jenny Preston, head of sixth form, said that the project gave extra breadth to the curriculum and made pupils' university applications stand out.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has said she is keen to let gifted pupils try university courses as part of the Government's drive to personalise education.