EMPLOYED, but under-qualified 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to take time off work to go to college, Education Secretary David Blunkett said this week.
The idea of "learning leave" was first put forward in January in a pamphlet by the Fabian Society - whose members include Mr Blunkett and Tony Blair. At the time, government sources would only say they "recognised the need" for study leave.
The right to a training day a week is likely to run alongside individual learning accounts, which are currently being piloted. A progress report published this week says ILAs are on course for a nationwide launch next year.
Department for Education and Employment research says the accounts will help people meet the cost of study, identified as a major disincentive to those wanting to return to learning.
The Government hopes that a million people will open ILAs with pound;25 which will attract a pound;150 grant. Employers' contributions and other additions to the account will be tax free and certain courses will qualify for discounted fees.
Mr Blunkett said he hoped ILAs would eventually become a part of the household budget with people putting money aside for their educational needs: "I would like to see people view the ILA like they do their pension or mortgage - as something that they contribute to over a long period of time."
He said that disadvantaged groups and communities would be encouraged to apply for ILAs. "We want them to be the first recipients of the first accounts. We have got a year in which to build awareness."
Criticism of the scheme - notably from Sir Ron Dearing who said pound;175 "would not buy much" - was misplaced, he argued. "They are a contribution. We know what pound;175 will buy, but it will buy a lot more if employers are prepared to match it with the tax relief available to them."