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'Earn or learn' scheme for school leavers

The business secretary, Vince Cable, is set to announce a new coalition scheme which will make it more difficult for 18- to 21-year-olds to go straight on to benefits after school, and instead require them to work or study.

He will hint at the new "earn or learn" plans, being discussed as a possible centrepiece of a new coalition agreement, in a speech to the Association of Colleges.

Government figures show 18.5% of boys aged 18 and 15.3% of girls are Neets – not in education, employment or training. The total is 115,000.

Cable will say in his speech: "The issue is this: the government has a clear vision for 16- to 18-year-olds, where we are raising the participation age and increasing support for English and maths. But for young people over 18, the offer is much less clear. There's generous educational support for some, while, for others, financial support through the benefits system can actually prevent them from learning. Ideally, we should be keeping this age group as far away from the benefits system as possible, unless there's a really compelling need.”

The new approach for 18- to 21-year-olds is being described as "earn or learn", a term borrowed from Australia.

Cable will also say it is his intention that 18-year-olds leaving school by the end of this parliament should consider an apprenticeship to be as rewarding and socially valuable as going to university.

The strong defence of further education, and its ability to forge social mobility, is also designed to signal that he is determined to defend further education from any cuts in the autumn statement.
He has already signalled in a speech he gave to the CBI that he does not want to accept cuts to the science or higher education budgets. He will assert that FE is a sector that is expanding, not contracting.

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