Key plans tertiary vouchers for teen school-leavers

By Audrey Young

National Party leader John Key will unveil fresh policies today in his biggest speech of the year, including a voucher entitling 16- and 17-year-old school-leavers to a limited period of free educational training at polytechs and other tertiary providers.

The policy will come with a quid pro quo: any young person who fails to take up his or her entitlement (except for reasons of sickness) will be ineligible for a benefit.

It is understood Mr Key will not describe it as a voucher system but an entitlement, with a monetary value to be used at the discretion of the student, which meets the definition.

His announcement, in a speech in Ellerslie at noon today, may be seized on by Labour as a forerunner of voucher education generally.

But the policy could be overshadowed by another major plan to be announced today, which Mr Key is keeping firmly under wraps.

Prime Minister Helen Clark will attempt to smother discussion and commentary after Mr Key's speech with her own breakfast address in Auckland tomorrow morning.

Mr Key's training policy will be dubbed the Youth Guarantee scheme and will be a personal entitlement for 16- and 17-year-olds for educational study towards school-level qualifications (levels 1 to 3 on the NZ Qualifications Authority framework).

It would be aimed at students who leave school without much idea of what they want to do.

The sorts of courses that could qualify might include elementary trades training, parenting or more intensive reading and writing.

Mr Key is expected to outline the value of the entitlement and the total cost of the scheme.

National's policy is that all under-18-year-olds should be in work, education or training.

Mr Key has made sure that today's speech contains tangible policies, having gone through most of last year without releasing many. He will be flanked by the party's Auckland MPs and budding candidates.

Mr Key will be hoping for the same political success that followed his first state-of-the-nation speech in January last year at Burnside, Christchurch, just two months after he took the helm of the National Party.

His speech set the agenda over the social "underclass"and a subsequent trip to McGehan Close in Owairaka resulted in a visit to Waitangi with him for youngster Aroha Ireland.

* TEENAGE APATHY

8400 16- and 17-year-olds were not in work, education or training, according to the latest Household Labour Force Survey.

3125 16- and 17-year-olds were receiving some kind of benefit (626 on the DPB; 115 the invalids benefit; 139 the sickness; and 1245 other benefits including the Independent Youth Benefit), according to the Ministry of Social of Development figures last September.

* ISSUES THEY'LL TAKE ON - AND AVOID

HOT

Tax cuts: National's bread and butter and jam policy is bound to get another airing.

Squeeze on household income: Who is not feeling the pinch?

Crime: No shortage of tragedies to draw on for a get-tougher approach.

Education and training: New education entitlement policy will be hugely important to those with teens.

Health: Still plenty of potential to expand private sector input.

New leadership: Relentlessly pushing the obvious worked for new Australian PM Kevin Rudd.

NOT SO HOT

State asset sales: A phrase that will not pass his lips this year.

Extra funding for private schools: No point in inviting politics of envy.

Repeal of Foreshore and Seabed Act: Can wait until National has to deal with Maori Party.

* * *

* PRIME MINISTER HELEN CLARK

HOT

Tax cuts: Will reaffirm commitment but touch on world conditions.

National pride: She has cornered the market through unparalleled attention by a PM to history and culture. A fitting occasion to set out early thoughts on a Hillary memorial project.

Housing affordability: A mountain of work is being done on this area.

Education: Kids can never be too proficient in IT and broadband can never be too fast.

Health: Cuts to the cost of doctors visits and prescriptions gives Clark big bragging rights. More plans may be unveiled.

Experienced leadership: It didn't work for John Howard in Australia but he did not sustain the personal popularity ratings that Clark has.

NOT SO HOT

Anti-smacking law referendum: Will avoid at all costs.

John Key and Helen Clark are giving little away on their scene-setting speeches today and tomorrow in Auckland so we pick the possible hot button subjects and no-go topics for both.

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