Beware colleges 'of last resort'

4th May 2007 at 01:00

PLANS TO force teenagers to study until they reach 18 are likely to lead to a new tier of low-status training for reluctant students, research warns.

A report commissioned by the CfBT Education Trust said successful colleges and schools will be reluctant to take on disaffected teenagers for fear that they will bring down exam results and damage the institutions'

reputation.

Mick Fletcher, the report's author, said: "The likelihood is that, at least as long as the current regime for assessing institutional performance remains in place, any school or college with a choice in the matter will leave the conscripts to someone else.

"A range of low-status `providers of last resort' will probably emerge to tackle the thankless job of delivering over-designed programmes to unenthusiastic participants."

But some colleges said they had a track record in dealing with disaffected teenagers and would rise to the challenge.

Ioan Morgan, the principal of Warwickshire College and chairman of the 157 Group of large colleges, remains convinced that he and his colleagues can make compulsory education until 18 work.

He said: "I am optimistic about colleges' ability to deal with this. At my college we have 1,000 14-year-olds, many of whom could be described as disaffected. Colleges are very good at dealing with this group."

The report said evidence from the United States and Canada, where some states and provinces are raising the school leaving age from 16 to 18, has shown little improvement in the numbers studying.

It further questions whether raising the age for compulsory education is merely a symbolic gesture, with the Government conceding most of the increase in participation will come from students staying on voluntarily.

There is also concern that extending the leaving age will suffer from a lack of enforcement.

For many students, the report said, staying in education until their 18th birthday could be rendered pointless because of previous achievement, as in the case of a student who gains a level 2 qualification at 1712 and then has nothing to do for half a year.

Mr Fletcher said it might be better to set the Department for Education and Skills a target of increasing participation to 100 per cent of 17-year-olds by 2015, but without compulsion.

It would mean providing programmes that young people really wanted to undertake, he said.

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