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Forced education will cause 'mass truancy'

London Telegraph | July 31, 2007
Graeme Paton

Forcing teenagers to stay in education until 18 will cause "mass truancy" and criminalise thousands of young people, a teachers' leader has warned.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's plan to raise the leaving age for the first time in 35 years will "prolong the agony" of school for many teenagers already bored by the classroom, said Geraldine Everett, chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers.

It is the latest in a series of attacks aimed at the Government's proposals to fine 16 to 18-year-olds if they skip school, college or on-the-job training.

Under plans being considered by ministers, persistent truants will be given £50 fixed penalty notices and a possible criminal record when the change is introduced in 2013.

But speaking at the PAT annual conference in Harrogate today, Mrs Everett said teenagers should be given the choice to stay in education or work.

"Extending the school leaving age is a potential minefield if not handled sensitively," she said.

"Here is a Government that has toyed with the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 in order to promote a greater sense of citizenship amongst our young people.

"Yet it proposes to extend compulsory education or training to 18, to compel the already disaffected to, in their perception, prolong the agony."

She said that making teenagers "conscripts" was likely to "reinforce failure, leading to even greater disaffection".

"Enforcement could lead to mass truancy, further disruption to other learners and staff, maybe even needless criminalisation if ‘enforcement measures' are imposed," she added.

Britain currently has one of the worst post-16 staying-on rates in the developed world. There were 124,000 16 and 17-year-olds not in education or employment last year and a further 79,000 in full-time work without any training.

Ministers want to change the law requiring all teenagers to remain in education or training until their 18th birthday - the first increase in the leaving age since 1972.

Addressing the first day of the PAT conference, Mrs Everett said ministers should not be imposing a one-size-fits-all model on young people.

She said that it was symptomatic of Tony Blair's educational legacy, which had turned schools into "mere exam factories".

"Blair's mantra of ‘education, education, education' has become a legacy of tests, tests, tests and targets, targets, targets," she said.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said: "It is only right that we are looking at all options to keep young people engaged in education or training up until 18 - whether at school, training or in a job. So you can still leave school at 16 to go to work as long as you continue with part-time appropriate training.

"Those young people who continue in education or training for longer earn more, and are less likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour."

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