Border stays closed on age enforcement

9th November 2007 at 00:00
Plans to raise the compulsory education age to 18 by 2015, announced by Gordon Brown this week, will not be implemented in Scotland.The scottish establishment closed ranks against one of their own this week when Gordon Brown's latest education plans, to force young people to stay on in education or training until they are 18, were firmly halted at the border.

The move, which had been widely trailed, was confirmed in Wednesday's Queen's Speech, setting out the Westminster Government's legislation for England during the coming year.

Raising the "education participation age", from 16 to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015, would have been introduced in Scotland if Labour had won May's Holyrood election.

But the SNP Government is taking a very different, and strong, line from the Prime Minister. "We are committed to encouraging more young people to stay in education and training post-16," a spokeswoman said. "However, we do not believe that raising the compulsory leaving age in Scotland is the best way to deliver this change.

"Ministers have made their opposition to such a change clear, prior to being in government and subsequently. Our focus is on supporting young people aged 16 to 19 who need more choices and chances, not in legislating to force them to engage in education or training."

This is supported by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. "We do not support compulsory schooling for 18-year-olds," John Stodter, its general secretary, said. "We would be happy with ensuring every school-leaver had appropriate and compelling choices to ensure 'more choices, more chances' - as opposed to more compulsion, better statistics."

The circling wagons to halt the incursion were completed by the Educational Institute of Scotland, which expressed "serious concerns" about any changes which involve compulsion beyond the age of 16.

The Government's decision for England was heavily influenced by the UK Leitch review on skills. It was commissioned by Mr Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, from Sandy Leitch, city banker and fellow son of Fife.

His review estimated there would be a 50 per cent increase in the proportion of jobs demanding high level skills by 2020 - although Scottish ministers point out that, with the exception of London, Scotland has fewer low-skilled people and more highly-skilled people than anywhere else in the UK. Nonetheless, the UK would be condemned to "a steady decline ... and a bleaker future" if no action was taken to raise the skills bar, Lord Leitch said.

Ed Balls, the Secretary for Children, Schools and Families in England, said: "If we don't act now to increase participation, it will be the most disadvantaged young people who will be the losers in this new and fast-changing world."

The action is seen as a determined effort to reduce the number of young people who are "not in education, employment or training", estimated at 200,000 in England and 20,000 in Scotland.

The planned legislation in England will not simply allow pupils to leave school and walk into a job. The bill will require employers to release young people for the equivalent of one day's training each week, if they do not do training themselves.

Employers, local authorities, training providers, parents and teens will be under a legal requirement to observe the new rules. There could be fines or community service from 2013 for non-compliance.

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