SCHOOLS and colleges will have to plan programmes of mentoring and counselling for all 13-year-olds from this autumn if Tony Blair's plans to rescue 161,000 teenage drop-outs are to succeed, college leaders said this week.
The Association of Colleges has welcomed government incentives to woo teenage drop-outs into further education and training. But it has warned that colleges face huge challenges in adapting the post-16 curriculum to meet their needs.
The heavily leaked report of the Downing Street social exclusion unit this week warned of a downward spiral of drug-taking, crime and long-term unemployment.
One solution lies in a restructured careers service with personal mentors for 13-year-olds at risk, leading to the right curriculum choices at 16. Colleges should also provide extra incentives for the disabled, the homeless and single parents.
Coupled with the Government's Curriculum 2000 proposals to expand subject choice from age 14, the initiatives to be in place by 2002 represent the biggest curriculum changes ever embarked on.
Judith Norrington, of the AOC, said that if socially excluded young people were to be enticed back into colleges they needed to be treated like adult learners, which represented a "big curriculum issue".
"There's a move now towards 16 to 19-year-olds having a much more prescribed curriculum of A-levels, GNVQ and so on," she said.
"But I think these are precisely the people who are going to need some of the things that returning adults need, like shorter pieces of study, things they can achieve early. There needs to be a lot of confidence building."
To achieve the aims by 2002, colleges have to think now about what reforms were needed and how to link with schools, she said.
"One of the things to think very carefully about is whether this group require a different curriculum mix. If you have just dropped out of school it is no good being faced with three A-levels or even an NVQ.What you need are individual units which make you think 'for the first time in my life I've actually achieved something'."