Key Points:

High school students not suited to school will be going to class at an Auckland polytechnic instead, under a new $1 million pilot project.

The scheme _ part of a $39.7 million suite of education initiatives announced yesterday and linked to the Government's major Schools Plus plan _ is due to start at the Manukau Institute of Technology next year.

Unlike traditional fast-tracking of students to universities or polytechnics, the 80 to 100 students in the "tertiary high school" will not be top academics and will stay on their old high school roll.

The Year 11 to Year 13 pupils will have "potential" but not be suited to conventional high school.

Manukau Institute of Technology student affairs executive director Stuart Middleton said it aimed to engage those who might have otherwise dropped out.

"We're keeping students in school but not at school," said Dr Middleton. "This is students finishing their schooling but not remaining in the environment where they are not making sufficient progress."

Dr Middleton said attendance would be monitored to ensure pupils were coming to class as part of a wide range of supports to be offered.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday announced other details of the Schools Plus plan.

She said the school-leaving age would remain at 16, but in 2011 an "education and training age" of 17 would be introduced, then increased to 18 in 2014. By 2011 all students would have an "education plan" developed with the help of career advisers and teachers.

She said the aim of Schools Plus was to tackle the 34 per cent of students who left school without level two NCEA.

"Senior secondary schooling will be transformed so that staying at school, gaining relevant qualifications and building on qualifications beyond school, will become the accepted norm over time."

North Shore high school principals this year indicated they would boycott Schools Plus unless their worries about underfunding in schools was addressed. Helen Clark said the $39.7 million package was only an initial investment and the Government was committed to fully resourcing the programme, estimated to cost $150 million a year once fully running.

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Just a rehash, says National

National yesterday claimed the Labour education proposal plugged as a "quantum leap" by Prime Minister Helen Clark in February was little more than a reheat of plans announced six years ago.

Leader John Key said the goals of Schools Plus were similar to those in the 2002 Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs agreement with the Government.

That agreement pledged to get all 15- to 19-year-olds engaged "in appropriate education, training, work, or other options which will lead to long-term economic independence and well-being" by 2007.

Mr Key said the Schools Plus pledge to keep teenagers in formal education for longer was "the same announcement".

"More than 25,000 Kiwis aged 15 to 19 are not in any form of education, training or work _ that's despite Labour's promise to get that number down to zero."

Education Minister Chris Carter said it was a cynical attack.

"[Yesterday's] announcement provides a real opportunity. It is well-resourced, well-consulted and appears to be well-received by education stakeholders."