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End of a disgrace

No one can argue with the Government's desire to raise the compulsory learning age to 18. The fact that employers are allowed to employ armies of teenagers without giving them any training is a national disgrace.

The lack of compulsion or youth market regulation has also fuelled inertia among authorities when tackling the problems of 200,000 young people not in education, employment or training. This Neet group would, at the stroke of a legislative pen, instead become "truants" or, in today's politically correct terminology, "school refusers".

This is more than just another raising of the school-leaving age. It is about ending the bigger cycle of deprivation that results from the wasted education and training years of so many 16- to 19-year-olds.

Nor can anyone argue with plans to give colleges degree-awarding status. If the drive to raise standards among younger students succeeds, many will need degree places locally, and colleges have proved they can deliver.

While this proposal is laudable, it must not come at the expense of investment in adult education. There is a real threat the Government will put all its eggs in the youth basket. It must not be allowed to. There is still a strong argument for greater statutory entitlement for adult education and training.

Leitch is looming, with likely recommendations for more to be spent on adult basic skills, for some sort of training levy and for licenses to practice - which would require employers to meet certain training standards if they are to bid for public contracts.

Two big initiatives for youth and adult education and training must not be reduced to a competition over which group gets the biggest share of the limited cash available. Both deserve radical reforms and adequate cash to achieve their goals.

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