School leaving age raised

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Tens of thousands of teenagers will stay in school or training for an extra year as the education leaving age is raised this week, but business leaders have warned that youngsters need better careers advice to make good decisions about their future.

Youngsters who received their GCSE results this summer will continue some form of studying until they are 17 in a move to raise the education participation age. From 2015 this will be increased to 18.
As students head back to full-time education, begin an apprenticeship, or combine work with part-time studying, business groups suggested more needed to be done to raise awareness about the change, and to ensure that teenagers are informed about all the options available to them.

And one charity warned that the poorest teenagers risked being labelled as truants if they could not afford to stay in education or training.
John Wastnage, skills policy adviser at the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), said that many employers did not know about the change and that it is down to the young person to ensure they continue their education.

"The duty is on the individual and not the employer and I don't think that's been very well communicated" he said.

"Employers don't have a responsibility with regard to raising the participation age. There's a concern that some employers may just decide not to employ 16-year-olds, because they are concerned they have a new duty to make sure they're (young people) also in training and that's not the case," Mr Wastnage added.

Driving the UK's economy forwards depends on knowledge and skills, he said, so it makes sense for youngsters to remain in education for longer.

"That needs to be flexible and accompanied by as much information as possible.

"Unfortunately, anecdotally what we are hearing is some schools are not fulfilling their duty to inform young people about the full range of opportunities available to them."

He said: "We don't have a preference about vocational or academic, both are important to the economy. We need academic elitism, but we also need high level vocational skills and training.

"We need a more comprehensive, in depth careers education, I would suggest starting from primary school with the basics of what is work and developing each year to be in more depth and covering a broader range of opportunities and expectations."

Verity O'Keefe, employment and skills policy adviser at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: "With the participation age rising to 17, the initial temptation for many young people may be to continue their academic studies but industry will be calling out to young people to consider vocational pathways too. With two-thirds of manufacturers we surveyed saying they currently offer apprenticeships, and three-quarters saying they specifically target the 16 to 18 cohort, the opportunities are clear.

"The challenge is getting this message out to young people so that they are aware of the opportunities available to them. Clear communication around the various pathways that are available is crucial and young people must then have access to independent, face to face careers advice to ensure they are making informed choices about their futures."

An extra 52,000 young people will be staying on this year, according to Barnardo's.

The charity claimed many of these youngsters, who would previously have dropped out of education and become "NEET" (not in education, employment or training) , could face financial hardship, social problems and special educational needs.

It added its own research had shown that the Government's Bursary Fund - the replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance which was controversially scrapped in 2010 - did not cover the poorest students day-to-day costs "forcing them to choose between buying hot lunches or getting the bus to college."

Barnardo's assistant director of policy Jonathan Rallings said: "The opportunity to continue learning for an extra year is a golden one for the most disadvantaged students, but if they can't afford or use this chance properly the risk is they will go from being "NEETs" to truants.

"The current financial support is not enough for the 52,000 extra staying on, many of whom would have previously dropped out due to extra challenges such as financial hardship or learning difficulties.

"Without the right financial support, course options and careers advice we are failing the most vulnerable young people."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said that the Government wants teenagers to "participate actively" in education and training.

"That is why we are planning to spend £7.4 billion on education and training this year, giving every young person the opportunity to continue their studies and go on to skilled employment or higher education," she said.

"We are funding all part-time study and increasing apprenticeship places, spending £833m this year to pay for more than 140,000 16-18 apprenticeships and for 40,000 small businesses to take on a young apprentice."

She added that there is a legal obligation on schools to provide independent careers advice for pupils up to age 18, and that Ofsted is prioritising the inspection of careers guidance.

© 2013 Press Association
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