Members of the public can now learn to shoot at the state's expense. College courses in shotgun use have joined the list of those eligible for Government funding.
The TES has learned that last month, just before the massacre at Dunblane primary sparked widespread public concern over firearms control, the Department for Education and Employment added three qualifications involving shooting or gun theory to the list of vocational courses eligible for funding. It is understood to be the first time colleges have been able to claim public cash for courses involving weapons training (in the context of pest control and countryside management).
In the wake of the shooting of 16 children and a teacher by gunman Thomas Hamilton the DFEE has now promised to take public alarm over guns into account in a forthcoming review of how vocational courses become eligible for funding. That inquiry has been prompted by concern in educational circles that inappropriate or insufficiently rigorous programmes are finding their way on to the list.
For one course, which involves detailed instruction on how shotguns work (but no actual shooting), it is up to colleges to vet students.
Two qualifications now on the DFEE list - one in coaching in shotgun use and the other a general proficiency award in countryside shooting involving gun theory and simulated shooting - are accredited by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
National vocational qualifications in gamekeeping, which also involve shotgun training, now attract Further Education Funding Council cash. NVQs in shooting are under development.
The BASC, a country shooting organisation which has run courses for fee-paying students for a decade, said they were aimed either at agricultural students who would need to use guns or estate managers.
A spokesman strongly defended the funding approval. "It is a massively positive step for those in contact with firearms through their job to have some form of approved training."