Lead us not into compulsion

SEVEN IN 10 teenagers oppose Government plans to force them to stay in education until 18.

More than 71 per cent told researchers they believed people had a right to choose whether to stay on after 16.

The poll of 380 13- to 18-year-old teenagers and their parents, by the Learning and Skills Network, followed an earlier survey of public opinion by the Department for Education and Skills, which found that two-thirds of people supported the change in the law. Support was highest among older people.

But compulsion would be the wrong approach, according to Ellie Russell, vice-president for FE of the National Union of Students.

She said: "What we fear is that, with a focus on compulsion, this policy might be resisted.

"Higher education maintenance allowances, flexible curricula, and better information and advice would all go a long way in doing this. The carrot is more powerful than the stick."

Asked how much they agreed that it was a good idea to raise the leaving age to 18, nearly 40 per cent of teenagers said they "agreed somewhat". Fewer than 11 per cent strongly agreed.

Most of their parents were in favour of raising the age for leaving education.

But there was widespread doubt that the laws would be effective. Eight out of 10 parents believed that teenagers with no interest in education and training would not comply. A similar proportion felt that those with drug or alcohol problems, or those involved in crime, would simply ignore measures to compel them to continue education or training.

Both teenagers and their parents believed that business would benefit from more young people staying on in education, through an improvement in students' basic skills, ensuring that they are better prepared for the job market, and a reduction in companies' training costs.

They also recognised the likely social benefits, including a reduction in anti-social behaviour, a cut in youth unemployment and giving teenagers the skills to become responsible adults.

But sanctions against those who fail to attend courses attracted little support from teenagers or their parents, with just 10 per cent backing fixed penalty fines and only about 15 per cent saying a refusal to take part should be a criminal offence.

Penalties such as losing the right to apply for a driving licence garnered support from more than a quarter of parents.

But financial incentives similar to the education maintenance allowance were popular among parents and teenagers. More than 65 per cent expressed the view that such measures should be used to encourage students to stay on.

Phil Hope, the skills minister, said: "No one should leave education and training at 16 without the skills to succeed. That is why we are consulting and need the views of practitioners and employers alike on how to ensure that training for all those currently dropping out is rewarding and engaging.

"The new flexible, relevant diplomas and the expansion of our world-class apprenticeship system represents a massive boost in opportunity for young people."

Colleges `of last resort', page 3 Comment and FErret, page 4

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