Government snubs East Anglian students

Thousands of the neediest East Anglian teenagers will be left on the sidelines after areas with chronic skills shortages were excluded from the first phase of an education revolution.

Thousands of the neediest East Anglian teenagers will be left on the sidelines after areas with chronic skills shortages were excluded from the first phase of an education revolution.

Ministers yesterday named the winners and losers in the race to be pilot areas for the new 14-19 diplomas heralded as the way to keep disaffected youngsters in education and close the nation's skills gap.

A handful of schemes in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire were given the go-ahead - giving teenagers the chance to study specialist courses like construction and engineering in the next few years.

But thousands of young people will miss out after areas known to suffer the greatest skills shortages, including King's Lynn, Yarmouth and Fenland, had their bids rejected.

The decision was met with disappointment and confusion in East Anglia, where 33 out of the total 46 bids were rejected out of hand.

North-west Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “I find it very surprising that west and east Norfolk haven't been selected. This has all the hallmarks of some bureaucrat in Whitehall looking at Norfolk and not understanding that King's Lynn and Yarmouth are the two areas where we have a skills shortage.

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“I will be writing to the education secretary to find out how this decision was made.”

Dick Palmer, principal of Norwich City College, was “delighted” that diplomas led by the college in construction and creative and media industries had been given the go-ahead from September 2008.

But Mr Palmer, who is on Norfolk's 14-19 steering group, added: “Relatively speaking, Norfolk and Suffolk have done particularly poorly. A whole chunk of the east of England is not getting any representation.

“We have some of the worst post-16 education participation rates in the country, so if anybody needs this scheme it's us.”

He added that Hertfordshire, which got six of the 11 schemes in the first wave, had “much less” of a skills shortage than Norfolk and Suffolk.

Daphne King, vice-principal of Yarmouth College and chairman of the 14-19 east consortium, said the area had submitted bids for each of the five diploma routes.

She said she was “disappointed” at the decision, but added: “We understood that there was a risk that our bid may not be successful even though, like west Norfolk, we have an excellent track record of working collaboratively with schools.

“There will be further opportunities to bid and we will be able to learn from those pilots that have been successful. Our learners will not be disadvantaged in any way.”

Norfolk County Council was among the organisations that led the bidding process. It also endorsed all 21 of the bids in the county.

Yvonne Barclay, principal adviser for secondary schools, said she was delighted that a significant number of Norfolk's schools and partner FE colleges had been approved to teach the diplomas.

She said: “This new qualification will create a real opportunity for young people in Norfolk, giving them access to a wide choice of learning opportunities tailored to their individual talents and ambitions.”

Across England, 40,000 places will be available on the new diplomas in 97 local authorities. They will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels and will eventually be expanded to all students who want to take them.

The five diplomas on offer are construction and the built environment, engineering, creative and media, IT and society, health and development.

From September 2009, five more diplomas will be taught, in land-based and environmental studies, manufacturing, hair and beauty, business administration and finance and hospitality and catering. They will be joined in 2010 by public services, sport and leisure, retail and travel and tourism.

Each bid included a cluster of schools and colleges, with a lead partner. In Norfolk, the county council endorsed all 21 bids.

Two schemes in Norwich, one in north Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire will be able to start in September 2008, while one in north Norfolk and another in Cambridgeshire have been told they will start at the same time if they improve their bids in the next three months.

Another two in Norwich, three in Cambridgeshire, one in Lowestoft and one in north-west Suffolk will begin in September 2009 if conditions are met - while the remaining 33 were rejected and told to try again at a later date.

Education secretary Alan Johnson said: “With fewer low-skilled jobs, we need more high-skilled young people. Diplomas will provide the missing link - creating the mix of vocational and academic education which we've lacked for so long.”