Children as young as 14 will be able to follow apprentice schemes in construction trades rather than attending school, the government announced today.

Education secretary Charles Clarke and Ivan Lewis, the minister for skills, announced the expansion of a scheme that will enable pupils aged between 14 and 16 to leave school and study a trade or other vocational course at college.

The proposals are part of a review of vocational education that will be published in a white paper next month.

The plans will expand upon the Young Apprentice scheme launched last September. Under this, teenagers undertake vocational training in college for part of each week while also following a standard GCSE programme.

More than 1000 students have enrolled in the past four months.

Ministers now want to offer youngsters the chance to attend full-time courses with training providers, colleges and other agents. At the end of a two-year programme, students will be able to move directly into employment or switch to an advanced apprenticeship or A levels.

Lewis said: “We all know we have a cultural issue on vocational skills. They are still seen as second rate. We have to employ schemes that have currency with employers, higher education and individual learners.”

Thousands of 14 and 15-year-olds will also be offered the chance to split their week between work placements and college or school. These “junior apprenticeships” will offer the chance to learn on the job from skilled workers such as joiners and electricians.

It is hoped that the scheme will help tackle the current skills crisis in construction. Latest figures show that the industry is 300,000 workers short of its full capacity.