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True purpose of a higher leaving age

Plans to raise the school leaving age to 18 in 2013 have been welcomed by educators. But young people's views are less positive; indeed, they echo those of working-class families in 1972 when the leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 in what was widely seen as a way to disguise unemployment.

Employers are enthusiastic, as Nicholas Woolley points out in his report on similar moves in Canada (TES, January 26). As business de-skills and exports jobs abroad, employers say they need more skills. But what they really want is a glut of applicants to be sorted by qualifications.

Government seeks to engage disaffected 14 to 19-year-olds by offering vocational diplomas, yet so-called vocational courses usually attract lower future earnings than traditional academic qualifications.

With up to 40 per cent of the age range going on to higher education, staying on until 18 is already the norm. Regularisation of this in 2013 offers a chance to assume full citizen's rights at that age. Education maintenance allowances should continue for all until then.

With those provisos, we welcome the move, but if it is to bring all young people in from society's margins, we must re-open the debate about what the curriculum should include, how learning should take place and for what purpose.

Martin Allen And Patrick Ainley Alperton Community School And Greenwich University

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