Consult young people on school leaving age, ministers are told

A body representing teenagers has called on the Government to listen to the younger generation's views on proposals to raise the school leaving age to 18, writes Ben Pindar of the Press Association.

The British Youth Council said ministers should consult under-18s about its plans and has pledged to carry out its own consultation on the issue. A spokesperson for the council, Jenny Commin, 21, said: "Young people's voices are missing from the Government's proposals. They should be involved in decisions that affect their lives and we will be consulting widely to gain their views on the Government's discussion document."

The council has also criticised proposals to fine people who refuse to stay in education or training until they are 18.

Ms Commin said: "Since the majority choose to stay on past 16 anyway, the ones least likely to participate voluntarily are those the proposals are supposedly designed to help. It is unlikely that the threat of a fine will make young people take part if they don't want to, and the Asbo-style Attendance Orders will further stigmatise those the Government is trying to help."

The British Youth Council represents more than 170 national youth organisations and works to ensure young people are involved at every level of decision-making.

Plans to increase the leaving age were laid out in government proposals which would come into effect in 2013. Ministers insist a 17-year-old choosing to stay out of work or education should be considered as unacceptable as a 14-year-old skipping lessons in school. All teenagers under 19 would have to be working towards an "accredited qualification".

The proposals have raised concerns among teaching unions. Steve Sinnot, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said compulsion is the "wrong approach". Compulsion has also been opposed by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union.

As well as opposing the principle of compulsion, the UCU questions whether there will be sufficient resources to take on the influx of students which would result.

While there are concerns within the education system, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, is believed to have been spurred on by wider research which shows nine out of 10 people want the leaving age extended beyond 16.

At the moment, 16-18 education or training is merely an entitlement.

Apart from training people directly for employment, colleges have an increasingly important role bridging the gap between school and a degree for thousands of teenagers. The recent skills review by Lord Leitch predicted 40 per cent of jobs will require graduate-level qualifications by 2020.

Despite the efforts to increase the numbers staying on post-16, research shows English teenagers remain twice as likely to be out of work and not in education as their German and French counterparts.

The study was carried out by the London School of Economics for the Prince's Trust charity, which provides education and personal development opportunities for youngsters.

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