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Raising the participation age risks teens 'descending into criminality', charity warns

New policies designed to encourage young people to stay in education have inadvertently led to hundreds of vulnerable learners getting “lost within the system” and missing out on vital support, a charity has warned.

Crime reduction charity Nacro has claimed that the raising of the participation age (RPA) to 17, combined with the launch of 16-19 study programmes, has prompted many schools to avoid formally excluding students in order to retain government funding, even if the learners are no longer attending classes.

Nacro – which offers a range of study and training programmes designed to help disaffected young people back into education – says that, as a result of these “ghost exclusions”, it has seen its number of referrals drop by around 40 per cent since September.

Josh Coleman, the charity’s education principal, said the new RPA and study programmes policies, combined with the collapse of the Connexions careers service, had created a “perfect storm”, resulting in many vulnerable young people missing out on specialist intervention.

“Under the study programme, the funding follows the learner,” he said. “As a result, some schools are reluctant to formally exclude students.

“We have seen with the RPA and introduction of the study programme a significant drop in the number of students accessing our programmes. If young people aren’t engaged in education or employment, there’s a real risk of them descending into criminality.

“It is serving up turbulence for society in the near future. It’s going to lead to a number of young people having their futures blighted by conflicting policies and being lost within the system.”

Longer term, the charity warned that the current situation could lead to an increase in truancy among students being coerced into staying in school and, eventually, falling out of education, employment or training altogether.

“Many learners with complex needs will fall through the cracks, denied a suitable environment in which to learn at a vital stage in their development,” a Nacro spokesman said. “As a result these learners will most likely disengage with not only their school, but also their local communities.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman contested the charity’s claims. “We have raised the participation age so that rather than drop out, every young person can continue their studies and have the opportunity to go on to skilled employment or higher education,” she said.

“It has always been the case that where a student does drop out of education at 16, the institution's funding for the following year is affected. Therefore the move to funding following the student rather than the qualification shouldn’t be a factor in institutions deciding how to manage specific students.”

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