This is a longer version of a piece that is in this weeks Big Issue in the North magazine.
The government has failed to prepare for the raising of the school leaving age next year by ensuring the right colleges and courses are in place, an education expert has warned.
The current school leaving age is 16. It was introduced in 1972, seventy-three years after it became compulsory for young people to attend school until they were, at least, twelve. This is to be raised next year to 17, and the year afterwards to 18.
But Tom Wylie, former head of the National Youth Agency, said that funding for colleges and community-based organisations is “complex and problematic” and not geared towards the needs of local economies.
In 2007 Wylie - who last year acted as a special advisor to the Education Select Committee examining the challenges facing 16-19 year olds - warned the Labour government that too many people left education without the skills needed to find work. He urged for greater investment in community organisations better able to deal with “disaffected, slightly disgruntled, underachieving youngsters” likely to be forced to remain in education.
Last week he said: “I hope I am not saying the same thing in 2017- that there are not enough of the right kinds of courses and appropriate vocational qualifications for the population. But I wouldn’t bet against it. Little has changed at the supply end with funding for colleges and community-based organisations remaining complex and problematic.
Furthermore since 2008 - when the proposed changes were made law under the education and skills act - “the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, a steep rise in youth unemployment and massive cutbacks in youth work services are going to make it very difficult to create a system that can assistance our young people to up-skill in order to compete internationally” says Wylie.
Around 200,000 16-18 year olds – around 10% of the total - are Not in Education, Employment or Training [NEET]. Scunthorpe County Labour MP Nic Dakin, who last year sat on the Education Select Committee, echoed some of Tom Wylie’s concerns and said “without proper resources and strong leadership nationally and locally it will be difficult to engage with youngsters already NEET or those likely to become so.”
Although the vocational courses introduced by Labour, during their 13 years in power, were heavily criticised last year by Professor Alison Wolf on grounds that they were of little value in helping young people find work or gain a university place, Dakin doesn’t believe the coalition government’s new plans are an improvement.
These will end schools having a duty to provide work-related learning, including work experience, to all pupils over 14. The English Baccalaureate [EBacc] introduction last year into secondary schools – requiring pupils to gain good GCSE’s in core subjects, including maths, history or geography, science and a language – may he feels see schools “downgrade their support for other subjects, thus increasing alienation.”
It’s a charge a Department of Education spokesperson refutes saying “EBacc is not compulsory. And because languages were not previously compulsory there was a sharp decline of take-up in French, German and Spanish. We have already seen an increase in student numbers taking History and Geography, and research shows leading employers are wanting tougher and more analytical subjects to be taught.” She denied pupils wouldn’t have time to study other chosen subjects and said it was right that all students aged 16-19 without a grade C or better in English or Maths should continue to study these subjects.
With regards to whether there will be the resources available to achieve full participation of young people in education or training until age 18 the spokesperson said, “ultimately it will be down to Local Authorities to make sure young people in their areas participate and have the support they need to overcome barriers to learning.”
In Leeds a City Council spokesperson said, “We are fully confident that the necessary changes will be in place within the required timescales to meet the challenges. We are working in partnership with schools, colleges and training providers including smaller, often voluntary sector providers. “
She said the expected increased costs of raising the leaving age would not affect other services “as learning for 16 to 18 year olds is funded through the Young People’s Learning Agency and in the case of Apprenticeships through the Skills Funding Agency and not the local authorities.”