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School-Leaving Regulations

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to change the school-leaving regulations, particularly in respect of those wishing to take up apprenticeships.

The present leaving arrangements are governed by section 9 of the Education Act 1962 as amended by the Education (School Leaving Dates) Act 1976. Any changes would require legislation and my right hon. and learned Friend has no plans at present to introduce amending legislation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that is a disappointing reply? Does he not agree that it is quite absurd that a boy who reaches the age of 16 in October, and who wishes to take up a genuine apprenticeship, is not allowed to leave school at Christmas but has to stay until the following Easter? Is not that quite ridiculous, and is it not time that we operated the regulations more sensibly and flexibly?

I understand my hon. Friend's depth of feeling on the matter. The reason why there are two leaving dates—some teachers would prefer one leaving date—is that teachers can at least teach coherently throughout the year, which could not be done if youngsters fell out every Monday and Wednesday throughout the year.

My right hon. and learned Friend is asked, from time to time, to consider legislating to allow early leaving for those with offers of jobs or apprenticeships, those who wish to enter the Armed Services or those who wish to pursue a course of further education. A working party is currently considering the educational provision for 16 to 19-year-olds and will consider again the posibility of early transfer to courses in further education.

Will not the Minister admit that from the inception of education in this country the Conservative Party has been trying to trundle our children out of school into the factories as early as possible? [Interruption.] The noise that Conservative Members are making now proves that I have made a point. Will he not further admit that it is our children that Tory Members want to get out of school quickly and into the factories, and not their children, to whom they are about to give £60 million of our money, while cutting down education for our children?

The £60 million mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is not going to "our" children, the children of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is going to parents who cannot afford to send their children to fee-paying schools, I wish that the hon. Gentleman would read the scheme and note the maintenance level. It might be interesting if the hon. Gentleman strengthened his knowledge of history by looking back to see who raised the school leaving age from 15 to 16.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency a boy who was 16 on 1 September could have left school a year earlier if he had been born a day earlier, on 31 August? He had a job to go to and was disappointed—as were his parents—that he was unable to leave school and take up employment. Cannot my right hon. and learned Friend legislate for some sensible and flexible policy?

I understand my hon. Friend's depth of feeling on the matter. However, if we moved the date to 1 September someone whose birthday fell on 2 September would then grumble. It seems that it is something that parents will have to consider in the future at the moment of conception.

Will the Minister confirm that there is very little demand from vast areas of Britain for any alteration to the school regulations about the leaving age simply because there are no apprenticeships available for youngsters?

I appreciate that at a time of high unemployment it is more difficult for those leaving school to find jobs. We are concerned to build up the standards in the basic subjects so that those leaving at the age of 16 are ready to take apprenticeships when the upturn comes in our economy.