FOUNDATION apprenticeships that allow school kids to skip classes to take part in real-life work experience are set to increase massively after John Swinney used his SNP conference speech to announce a substantial hike in the number of places available.

In 2016-2017, there were 351 “starts” on the scheme. Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister told the party faithful his ambition was to have 5000 by the end of 2019.

It was the main policy initiative announced in the speech, which saw Swinney mount a spirited defence of the SNP’s record on education.

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There were, he said, all-time high achievements in Advanced Higher passes, and strong Higher passes, as well as more students completing college and university courses, more of them than ever before from Scotland’s most deprived communities.

“These achievements are no accident,” he added. “They are the result of the right choices being made.”

As he was speaking, Scottish Labour released a dossier of what they called the SNP’s “decade of division”.

“While the SNP has focused on breaking up the UK, it has allowed the attainment gap between the richest and poorest in our schools to widen. Just as Nicola Sturgeon announced her plans for a divisive second referendum, a school in John Swinney’s constituency had to appeal to parents to be voluntary maths teachers because of staff shortages.”

They added that the SNP had presided over “a growing gap between the richest and poorest pupils in maths, science and reading” and 4000 fewer teachers.

Foundation Apprenticeships are open to S5 pupils and are available in financial services, engineering, IT, healthcare, children and young people, business skills, creative digital media and laboratory skills.