Colleges will be able to directly recruit full-time 14 to 16-year-olds for the first time from the start of the next academic year.

Earlier this month, FE Week exclusively revealed that the Skills Minister Matthew Hancock had written to two members of the 14 to 16 College Implementation Group, confirming that from September colleges could have a contract to recruit full-time 14 to 16-year-olds.

His landmark decision was in a letter dated December 6 to Mike Hopkins, principal of Middlesbrough College, and Tony Medhurst, principal of Harrow College.

The Baker Dearing Trust has already been working with Southwark College, which is in effect bankrupt,”

Before Mr Hancock’s announcement, the former Tory Education Secretary, and Lord Baker criticised the then unconfirmed plan.

In an article in The Times he drew attention to the recent “devastating” annual report from Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector. He concluded that FE colleges should only be allowed to recruit at 14 if they provided premises to set up an independent college as an educational charity, supported by local employers and a university, on the model of university technical colleges (UTCs).

Thirty-two UTCs have been approved in the five years since Lord Baker developed the idea with the late Sir Ron Dearing.

He added that the eight “inadequate” colleges highlighted in Sir Michael’s report should immediately be told to provide premises to establish a UTC.

“The Baker Dearing Trust has already been working with Southwark College, which is in effect bankrupt,” he said.

“Over the next two years, 300 UTCs should be provided in this way from FE colleges — roughly the number of technical schools we had in 1945. When up and running they will be training 200,000 students. This would have all-party support and be a real achievement for the country.”

FE Week approached Lord Baker to expand on his views, but he declined to be interviewed owing to work pressures.

Mike Hopkins said the move for colleges to enrol 14-year-olds was a “major and historic step forward for young people and FE. It extends choice for students and is a major vote of confidence in the sector.”

Debbie Ribchester, the Association of Colleges’ 14 to 19 curriculum policy manager, said: “Many colleges have a long and successful history of educating 14 and 15-year-olds on a full and part-time basis. This very welcome is a vote of confidence in college provision.”

Mike Hopkins’ expert view, page 9