Sounding the bell for school leavers

TEENAGERS who drop out of education at 16 and refuse to go back, could face criminal action and £50 fines as the government introduces a scheme to make youngsters stay in education longer.

TEENAGERS who drop out of education at 16 and refuse to go back, could face criminal action and £50 fines as the government introduces a scheme to make youngsters stay in education longer.

But why is raising the leaving age so important? JAMES MARSTON and ROB GARRETT investigate.

IT'S a subject which has been talked about for years - should our youngsters stay at school longer or is 16 old enough to leave?

Government education bosses have now announced plans to ensure pupils will remain in some form of education or training until their 18th birthday - and if they refuse they could be fined.

Launching the green paper entitled 'Raising Expectations', education and skills secretary Alan Johnson said the economic reasons were compelling and British businesses will need ever more skilled employees to remain globally competitive.

University Campus Suffolk's head of marketing Polly Bridgman said the proposal would be welcomed by UCS. She said: “Our response to this can only be positive. Raising the age from 16 to 18 will raise aspirations and larger number of people progressing into Higher Education (HE).

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“For Suffolk it will benefit the economy and fits in with the UCS ambition to stem the brain drain away from the county and bring more skills to Suffolk.”

Mr Johnson said: “It's not good for the economy or for young people if they leave school at 16 without the skills they need to succeed in the world of work. With fewer low skilled jobs we need more high skilled young people and this means spending more time in training or education.

“As a nation we've toyed with the idea for almost a hundred years, now is the time to make it a reality for all.”

Chancellor Gordon Brown said: “Since 1997, the numbers of 16-24 year olds in full time education, employment or training has increased from 5.2 million to 5.8 million. But in the decade ahead we must do more. That is why, alongside increased investment in skills and training, for the first time in our country's history, we will make education a right for every young person until 18, and ensure they take up the opportunities open to them.”

The Green Paper is suggesting:

From 2013, young people should remain in education or training after 16 - this means the first pupils to be affected would be those entering secondary school in September next year.

Young people would be required to work towards accredited qualifications at school, in a college, or in “on the job” training or day release.

Apprenticeships will be significantly expanded so that they are available to any qualified young person who wants one.

Participation should be full time for young people not in employment for a significant part of the week and part time for those working more than 20 hours a week.

Better advice and guidance for young people to enable them to access education.

A high quality, accurate registration system to keep track of the education options a young person has chosen and to make sure they don't drop out,

New financial support measures to ensure young people from low income backgrounds get the support they need to overcome any barriers to participation.

But if teenagers refuse to take part they could face enforcement procedures which could include court and eventual fines - though this is expected to be only as a last resort.

Mr Johnson added: “Young people who continue in education or training for longer earn more, and are less likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

“I believe that our future success as a nation depends on the education we provide to our young people. The time has now come for society to consider whether we are letting young people down by allowing them to leave education and training without adequate skills at the age of 16.”

Judith Mobbs, area director of the Ipswich-based Suffolk Learning and Skills Council said: “We are working hard to provide better education and training opportunities in the future, so that young people will want to continue their learning.

“There will be more training places with employers and a wider variety of college courses so that everyone can find an option that helps them to achieve their career ambitions.”

Do you think youngsters should be fined if they refuse to stay in school? Should the leaving age be raised? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to

The new leaving age would not be brought in until 2013, and would give youngsters a choice of studying a range of qualifications including Alevels, GCSEs, the International Baccalaureate, diplomas,

apprenticeships, and accredited in work training.

Gem Eversden. 21, Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich - “Lots of people mess up their GCSE's and regret it; it's good to make everyone stay. I'm a temp worker now.”

Harry Quilliam, 70, Wherstead - “It should be up to the young people, they have their own views at that age, I know I did. I ran away at fifteen to join the navy but they wouldn't take me, so I joined the Army instead.”

John Sturgen, 65, Capel St. Mary - “I can't see it working. I was a teacher, and for a lot of kids by fourteen, fifteen a job would be better. It's difficult to believe it will work. It will need lots of money to make it work.”

Brenda Sharman, 69, Alexandra Road, Ipswich - “If they're not going to learn, then it's not going to make much difference. If they wanted to learn, they could stay, so there's not much point forcing them. I left school at fifteen to work in an office.”

George Mays, 69, Southend - “It's good I suppose, there won't be so many youngsters roaming the streets, and they might learn a bit more. Some people might not agree. Lots might want to stay at school, but lots might not as well.”

Cat Apps, 17, Woodbridge - “I think it's stupid, no one's learning more. And GCSE's are really pointless. Staying on for more exams means squat, it's only A-levels that are useful.”

Nad Rushbrooke, 20, Wherstead Road, Ipswich - “I think it's a good idea to make people stay on, but they need a more vocational curriculum, and they need more culture.”

Will Hawley-Thomas, 18, Fonnereau Road, Ipswich - “They should make people stay on at school, because I wish I had. Then I could change my mind and choose what I wanted to do.”