School leaving age plans criticised

A GOVERNMENT proposal to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18 would be unnecessary if children in Essex were being “properly educated”, an MP has claimed.

By Roddy Ashworth

A GOVERNMENT proposal to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18 would be unnecessary if children in Essex were being “properly educated”, an MP has claimed.

The plans, being considered by Education Secretary Alan Johnson, would be the first change to the school leaving age since 1972, when it was raised to 16.

But North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin harshly criticised the proposals, saying if the Government was providing adequate education for pupils at the moment there would be no need to raise the leaving age.

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A teachers' union also warned the Government it should think carefully about the consequences of such a move, saying many 14 to 16 year olds in the county's schools already show signs of disaffection.

If the plans go ahead, youngsters would be forced to stay in education or vocational training unless they had a job with a minimum level of training.

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But Conservative Mr Jenkin said: “I think the Government's priority should be to make sure every 16-year-old gets at least five GCSEs, two of which are in maths and English. There were 500 secondary schools that failed to do that last year.

“We wouldn't need to raise the school leaving age if children were being properly educated up to the age of 16.”

But Jerry Glazier, General Secretary of the Essex branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) - and also a member of the union's national executive - said: “Although in principle the NUT would not be opposed to this, there are serious problems and issues that need to be resolved first.

“Essentially, the increasingly important thing is about schools being able to engage kids aged from 14 to 16.

“If they did that, the likelihood is that the number leaving school at 16 would diminish in any case - the desire to stay on until 18 would have been established.

“There is currently a big and growing problem that some students are becoming disaffected with school between 14 and 16, and it is crucial that schools are given the flexibility and resources to deal with them.

“It is these students who leave at 16 and don't go into work, vocational training or further education, and all the laws and compulsion in the world will not get them to co-operate with what the Government wishes to provide for them.

“The Government should think carefully about this. There would also be a number of serious issues regarding resources, staffing and finances that will need to be addressed.”

At the end of the last academic year, there were 16,194 students in Essex approaching the end of their compulsory Essex County Council-maintained schooling, a council spokeswoman said yesterday.

Of these, 5,365 continued on in council-maintained schooling, she added, leading a shortfall of more than 10,000.

But the spokeswoman stressed many of these would have gone into other educational areas, such as vocational training, further education or jobs with training attached and those figures are not measured.

Mr Johnson defended the plans, expected to be published in a Green Paper this spring, which would see the change taking place by 2013.

He said: “It should be as unacceptable to see a 16-year-old working, with no training, no education, as it is now to see a 14-year-old.

“A 14-year-old at work was common until the (post-Second World War) Butler changes, but now you would find it repellent.

“We should find it equally repellent that a youngster of 16 is not getting any training.”

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