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Plan properly for the new leaving age

It is more than 30 years since the school-leaving age was last raised and I remember it clearly. In fact, I was then responsible for preparing a school and its pupils for the ROSLA, as it became affectionately known.

Plans have now been announced to raise the school-leaving age to 18 from 2013. Technically, the proposition is about keeping young people in some form of education or training until they are adults, most of them fulltime.

Much of this provision may include vocational education, workplace-based or skills training, alternative schooling or further education.

One of the serious weaknesses of ROSLA in 197273 was that the planning stages were rushed. Fortunately, we now have more than six years in which to get our preparation right.

About 11 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds remain outside education, training or work. But it is already clear that not everyone welcomes the proposal to raise the school-leaving age again.

The Confederation of Business and Industry has condemned the plan and some educationists argue that it would be better to amend the existing law so that, for example, disaffected youngsters could transfer fulltime to FE, out-of-school or alternative curriculum provision at 14.

In 197273. many pupils were forced to spend an extra year in the classroom. It now seems likely that incentives will be offered to encourage young people to remain in school or in training beyond 16.

Ten-year-olds entering secondary school next year would be the first to have to stay in mandatory education until they are 18. The Assembly government will need to find significant extra resources to meet the needs of colleges, schools and training agencies. And a sophisticated marketing campaign may be needed so future 16 to 18-year-olds perceive the staying-on period as an opportunity.

It would be disastrous if disaffected 16-year-olds enter as conscripts rather than on a voluntary basis. These students will need an appropriate curriculum which both recognises and meets their needs.

England and Wales would join a handful of G8 and EU countries such as Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Canada and the United States in which 18 is the legal school-leaving age. Lessons should be learnt from these countries.

For example, parts of Canada and the US have some of the highest school drop-out rates in the world.

The Assembly government may also need to train more vocational-oriented specialists for schools and colleges.

Ken Reid is deputy principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education

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