Raising Education Leaving Age - are we ready?

09 Dec 2009

As I write this the countdown clock to the first raising of the education leaving age in England since 1972 shows that implementation is just 3 years 8 months and 23 days away. 

From the start of the autumn term 2013, all 17 year-olds will be required to stay on in education or training for at least part of their week. This will affect all current Year 8 pupils.

In 2015, the minimum education leaving age will rise to 19, affecting all pupils currently in Year 7.

But will we be ready? One of the big problems when the school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972 was that little preparation had been done. There were soon complaints from head teachers and teachers that those required to stay on were bored, unmotivated and fractious. One Chief Constable even blamed the Raising of the School Leaving Age legislation for a rise in the crime wave as 16 year-olds were so bored in school they were turning to theft and burglary for diversion.

 I was at an event last night at which several leading educators stressed the need for preparation to start now. Indeed, the government is just launching an awareness raising campaign in a number of local authority areas and - with the expansion of diplomas, the Foundation Learning Tier, and apprenticeships - is putting in place a number of different routes for 17 and 18 year-olds to follow. 

One of the speakers at the event was Sir Michael Barber, former advisor to Tony Blair and the person credited with suggesting to Gordon Brown - then Chancellor of the Exchequer - that perhaps it was time to finally enact the aim of the 1918 Education Act, namely raising the participation age to 18.

He said there were a number of lessons from the history of raising the minimum education leaving age, both in the UK and elsewhere. These included:

  • the need to plan provision at every level;
  • that you cannot rely on the powers to force young people to stay-on;
  • the need for 'champions' to support young people;
  • the necessity of professional development for staff who will be dealing with students who until now have not stayed in education;
  • and the need for flexibility in the education system - such as longer or different tecahing hours -  to meet these new demands.  

 A number of those present urged the government to ensure there is sufficient provision below Level 2 (GCSE equivalent), particularly through the Foundation Learning Tier, since the diplomas were fast becoming a Level 2 qualification.


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