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Culture change is needed to make youngsters value training

Proposals to raise the school leaving age to 18 have inevitably sparked much debate from both sides of the fence and it is important that we listen to, and consider, all the arguments.

However, a professor obviously committed personally to education and training, arguing for retaining a leaving age of 16 and encouraging young people to go into work with no training, seems bizarre to say the least ("Teenagers `better off' going straight to work", May 11).

We are one of the very few developed countries in the world who allow our young people to drop out of any kind of training at 16.

The impact of this on our ability to compete has been highlighted by numerous reports, the most recent being the Leitch review. Estimates claim that by 2020, 50 per cent of all jobs will require qualifications equivalent to level 4. We must start now to change a national culture which for many years has placed little value on education or training that sits outside of a traditional GCSEA-leveldegree route.

However, there does need to be a balance. Several of the points made by Professor Wolf are valid. The last thing some young people want to do at 16 is stay at school. They can't wait to get out, and many want to start earning cash. Others, because of family circumstances, have to start earning money at 16. A number of them will go and work for a small employer as a trainee. We must not therefore let the desire to address the desperate skills needs of the country damage these young people's job prospects. We must find ways as a sector to persuade employers of the value of training and find flexible ways of delivering it that doesn't impact on a business's bottom line.

At the end of the day, we have to measure our economy against other developed and developing ones. The Prince's Trust's three-year strategy points to a lack of educational attainment as a primary factor in unemployment among young people. It points to a lack of skills as a key factor in guiding them into lower skilled, often seasonal jobs that don't give them training or pay them enough to afford training on their own.

The trust's report, The Cost of Exclusion, puts in stark detail the economic cost of the "drop-out" from any kind of education or employment with training. The report estimates that the UK has twice the number of young people not in education, employment or training than France or Germany and that this costs us pound;3.65 billion a year.

The costs are not only financial. We pay a much higher price in terms of anti-social behaviour, high youth crime rates and a vicious cycle of social exclusion. We must do everything we can to stem this tide.

Asha Khemka principal and chief executive, West Nottinghamshire College, Mansfield

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