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Staying on is their best hope

In response to Alison Wolf's attack on our plans to raise the education and training age ("Forced education till 18 is no cure for nation's ills", Comment, February 29), I would like to make some points. First, the reason we are raising the participation age is the clear benefits it will bring to the individual, the economy and society.

Alison Wolf is right at one level, in that the answer is to improve the options available to young people. That is one of the main aims of our 14 to 19 reforms. But without compulsory participation, the young people who are most disadvantaged, and who have most to gain, will continue not to get involved.

It is crucial that there is a genuine opportunity for every young person wherever they are in the country. Local authorities will have a duty to ensure they find worthwhile education and training options to engage this group.

While it is difficult to estimate uptake of qualifications that don't yet exist, it is simply not true to say that most additional learners will be doing NVQ2s. Diplomas and apprenticeships have been developed to provide young people with the skills and knowledge that employers need. The Foundation Learning Tier then underpins this by offering pathways to NVQ2.

Employer engagement is also crucial, but I don't believe that they will stop employing young people. Many youngsters who work are already successfully combining this with full-time education or work-based learning. Around three-quarters of 16- to 17-year-olds currently in employment are on these learning routes.

I believe that raising the participation age will give every young person the best chance to succeed.

Jim Knight, Minister for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families.

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