Foreign Office scheme closed to all except London-dwellers
A row has broken out over a "discriminatory" Foreign Office work placement scheme that bars applications from Scottish pupils.
The six-day placements for 16- and 17-year-olds are only available to those who live and go to school in London, even though it was open to students from all over the UK in previous years.
The Foreign Office claims security reasons and its difficulty in visiting pupils from outwith London mean the programme, which takes place in July, has to be restricted to Londoners.
Its website says: "The Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes staff security very seriously. We must be satisfied that those joining the programme can commute safely to and from central London."
John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: "It's very odd and arbitrary that a scheme which previously applied to all students in the UK - and which a small number of Scottish students have benefited from in the past - is now being restricted to students who reside and go to school or college in London. It seems to me to be potentially discriminatory."
Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said: "It's crazy that this can happen in 2008. We are a shrinking country - London's four-and-a-half hours by train or an hour by plane from Edinburgh, and the same from Glasgow or Prestwick.
"The reasons given for these restrictions are flimsy in the extreme."
Central Scotland SNP MSP Alex Neil said: "This is very discriminatory, not just against Scottish and Welsh people, but also people from the English regions - it's clearly an unfair policy.
"It confirms our worst fears about the Foreign Office being an imperialistic entity. It thinks London equates to the whole country and doesn't seem to know what exists north of Watford."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "It's all to do with duty of care and the fact that children of that age do tend to do work experience locally."
She stressed that the same recruitment policy did not apply to full-time jobs at the Foreign Office.
In 2006, the Foreign Office offered work experience to 48 candidates, of whom 27 came from the South East. Another 21 came from elsewhere in the UK, including one each from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In 2005, there were 25 placements - 14 from the South East and 11 from elsewhere, including one from Edinburgh.
Not only have this year's placements for 16- and 17-year-olds been restricted to Londoners, but three institutions that provided participants last year have been guaranteed placements for 2008: Bexley Grammar School, Tower Hamlets College and Quintin Kynaston School.