New series: "Should children be forced to stay on in education?"

This week sees the start of a brand new programme of articles to air debate on current education news stories.  Each week, we’ll speak to the people who matter, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

Should children be forced to stay on in education?

Children who started secondary school this term won’t have the option of leaving at 16.  Under new legislation they will have to stay in education until they are 17 years of age.

The move has been made because an estimated 190,000 children between 16-18 years of age are not in education, employment or training (NEETs). It is part of a package of measures to be introduced in order to encourage children to remain in education or training until they are 18 years of age, and which will be implemented by 2015.  It also aims to produce a better qualified workforce.

The last time school leaving age was changed was in 1972 when it increased from 15 to 16 years of age.  Here are some thoughts from the school community. Add your voice to the debate and post your comments below.

David Penny, Curriculum Manager, Ripon Technology Specialist College, Ripon, North Yorkshire

“Forced?  No.  Encouraged, guided and supported, yes.  Young people often get ‘lost’ in our deficient systems, where heads are only too willing to keep them on roll (to retain their funding) but are never seen, and the pupils are only too willing to stay at home when they should be in school.  The obvious consequences of boredom and lack of educational opportunities manifest themselves far too often in deviant and criminal acts.

“If the new system can guarantee that there will be equality of opportunity, and that real personalisation is possible, then the raising of the school leaving age can only benefit the students concerned and society in general.  For too many years, young people have been forced to stay at school, ‘studying’ subjects that don’t interest them, being ‘taught’ by teachers who would rather teach enthusiastic and academically motivated students.  Target our future workforce at a younger age and provide them with real and credible learning pathways at 14.  Continue to coach and support them in the core skills of numeracy and literacy.  Understand that a university education is not fit for anyone.  Understand that practical skills have a real value too.”


Siobhan Lewis, parent to Matthew aged 13 years, from Richmond, Surrey says:

 “It’s definitely a good thing for young people and their families, particularly those on a low-income.

“As it stood before, young people could leave school at 16 years of age and not do anything at all.  Low-income families suffered badly because once a child has left full-time education and/or turned 16 years of age the family would lose entitlement to several benefits, such as council tax, child benefit and tax credit.  Meanwhile the young people themselves remained unskilled and unqualified.

“Now everyone benefits; more schooling leads to better qualifications and families are helped financially.”


Dr. Christopher Howard, secondary school headteacher, Lewis School Pengam, Wales says:

“I have severe doubts about the wisdom of this decision taken in England.  In Wales, the school leaving age has not been raised but they are taking through legislation to compel schools, colleges and workplaces to work together to find a solution to reduce the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), and to produce a better qualified workforce.

“The difference here is that in England, they compel pupils to attend school for longer as a solution to the NEETs problem. But in Wales, they compel institutions to find a solution. 

“Also, under this new legislation how can teenage mothers with childcare responsibilities be forced to attend school?   I feel this is a wrong approach and is hardly useful.”

What do you think? Post below to let others know.