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“Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16”

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

I have today laid before the House a Green Paper, “Raising Expectations: Staying in Education and Training Post-16” which sets out the Government’s proposals that young people should continue to participate in some form of education or training until the age of 18.

The Green Paper sets out proposals to raise the aspirations of young people and to galvanise the entire education system to offer them more, so that they are able to stay on and achieve success. The benefits to young people, the economy, and society will be significant. For young people, participating in education and training for longer and achieving more leads to better outcomes—improved job prospects, higher earnings, and better health. Employers know that as the skills of employees improve their workforce becomes more productive.

These proposals have a long history. Both the 1918 and 1944 Education Acts sought to keep young people learning up to 18—though these provisions were never successfully implemented. It has now been 35 years since the last change in the leaving age, 35 years in which the UK has been transformed technologically, economically, and socially. There are many fewer unskilled jobs—a 16-year-old leaving school with no qualifications today is not prepared for the economy and society they are entering. As the Leitch review of skills highlights, the challenges of globalisation mean that British businesses will need ever more skilled employees to remain competitive.

We already recognise this need for improved levels of skills. We are already committed to making sure that 90 per cent. of 17-year-olds participate in education or training by 2015. This is a challenging target that we are confident we will meet, and it will represent a real improvement on the current participation rate in England of 76 per cent. Yet, it will still not be enough to pull us into the top tier internationally. The current UK participation rate places us 20th out of 30 OECD countries. Even an improvement to 90 per cent. would only place us around 10th, and that assuming other countries make no progress. So, we need to move beyond 90 per cent. participation to compete globally, but also for reasons of social justice. If 10 per cent. of young people do not participate then there is a risk that it is those young people with lower aspirations, who perhaps come from families and communities that have themselves had a poor experience of schooling, who miss out as participation increases. Within this group are often the young people who would have most to gain from longer participation and higher attainment. We cannot allow the most disadvantaged to miss out.

To ensure that all young people benefit, “Raising Expectations” sets out a central proposal that we will consult on:

That from 2015, young people should remain in education or training at least until their 18th birthday.

That this education or training could be in a school, college, with a work-based learning provider, or as part of a job.

That it should be full time, or part time if a young person is in full time employment.

To fully realise the benefits, participation must lead to attainment. And to ensure this happens we will need:

Engaging routes for everyone.

The right support to enable every young person to participate, whatever their circumstances.

Engagement from employers to offer high quality work-based training opportunities.

The means of making sure everyone benefits.

The central proposal recognises that different routes will work better for different young people. That is why “Raising Expectations” does not simply propose to raise the school leaving age. Rather, it proposes that young people should be able to choose the route that best suits them: this could be in school, college, or at work, working towards general qualifications, one of the new diplomas, or an apprenticeship. This range of provision and flexibility of approach will be critical to ensure that there is a suitable and attractive route for every young person. It will also mean that young people can choose to work alongside learning if they want to. We are already committed, as part of the programme of reforms detailed in the 2005 “14-19 Education and Skills” White Paper, to expand the curriculum options available to young people, and do not seek to raise the participation age until this is done. This means waiting until 2013, when the national entitlement to diplomas will see all 14 diploma lines available across England, and when the apprenticeship entitlement will be in place, so that every young person who is ready to and who wants to take an apprenticeship will be able to do so. The Green Paper proposes to raise the participation age to 17 from September 2013, and to 18 from September 2015.

“Raising Expectations” sets out the Government’s commitment to ensure that every young person is given the appropriate information, advice, and guidance, and the right financial and other support to ensure that they are able to access the right programme of study to suit their needs and aspirations. It also sets out a number of ways in which the Government will continue to encourage employers to provide valuable training opportunities for young people who want to work as they learn. These include increasing the number of apprenticeships available, utilising Train to Gain brokers to help employers find a training opportunity that meets a business need, and improving the accreditation system so that all employer training that is substantial and good quality is recognised.

“Raising Expectations” is predicated on a solid foundation of good economic sense and strong social justice. It recognises the challenges of implementation, and sets out how we propose to meet these challenges. In doing so, it sets out a clear vision of how all young people can benefit from longer participation and higher attainment, and how society and the economy will benefit in turn.