Families key to post-16 education

9th November 2007 at 00:00
Parents must be persuaded of the long-term benefits of staying at school if Bill is to succeed.The forthcoming Education and Skills Bill will pave the way for a historic change - the raising of the compulsory education and training age to 18.

But it will only give schools one extra duty - to let local authorities know if a young person drops out. It is the teenager who has the duty to participate and who could end up being fined if they ignore it. And it will be local councils, not schools, which administer fines and, if necessary, take teenagers to court.

In reality, business will probably feel more pressure than schools as work-related training will be key to ensuring all 16 to 18-year-olds stay on the right side of the law.

That has not stopped some schools from worrying. But Ed Balls, schools secretary, told The TES: "This is not a rise in the school leaving age. The estimate which we set out in the green paper had the numbers staying in school after 16 remaining roughly the same. There will be an increase in young people in college and a significant number more in apprenticeships or working and training."

Paul Buck is head of Portland School in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in the heart of a former coal-mining area hard hit by pit closures. But at 9.3 per cent, the proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds falling into the Neet - not in education, employment or training - group is actually below the national average of 10 per cent. Mr Buck thinks this may have something to do with the arrangements Worksop secondaries already have with the local FE college.

Only a quarter of his pupils stay on at sixth form, though this is rising, but another 40 per cent take courses at college. He backs fines as a last resort, but thinks the real key to increased participation post-16 is to convince parents of the benefits.

"Selling this to families who may see staying on in education as one less wage coming into the house is critical," he said. The Government also believes parents of children up to the age of 17 have a crucial role to play and has proposed making it easier for them to help children with their homework by giving an extra 4.5 million the right to request flexible working hours.

The Queen's Speech also contains a Children and Young Persons Bill which, following The TES's Time to Care campaign, will ensure all looked-after children have a dedicated teacher and do not move schools during GCSE years except in "exceptional circumstances".

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