Government’s handling of raising education leaving age is missed opportunity

A South Yorkshire MP has criticised the government’s handling of raising the education leaving age, calling it a “massive missed opportunity.”

The age at which young people can leave education or training rises from 16 to 17 next month, before becoming 18 in two years’ time.

John Healey, MP for Wentworth & Dearne, said the potential gains from raising the participation age would not be realised because of cuts to careers advice and financial support, like the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EMA saw participation in learning rise and the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) fall, but it was scrapped by the government in 2010.

The former minister for skills said: “This is an historic change and a huge opportunity. A million young people have no job, long term youth unemployment has doubled in the last three years and one third of 18-year-olds are not in any education or training.

“But this is set to become a massive missed opportunity.

“Two of the foundation stones for raising the education leaving age that Labour laid in 2008 when Parliament passed the legislation have been removed. Careers advice to help all young people make good choices about their future and financial support so that no young person is excluded from education or training because of cost have both been broken up by the government.”

Budget cuts mean that Connexions in Rotherham now supports just one in eight year 11 students, compared to the universal information, advice and guidance service it provided 10 years ago, which also had extra help for vulnerable 13-19 year-olds. From September, Barnsley will start restricting advice to only those children with special educational needs, who are in care or have offender management orders.

Mr Healey added: “Councils are having to make up for these national government failures. Barnsley is setting up locally-based personal advisers to provide advice and guidance and Rotherham remains committed to funding an independent online “search and apply” prospectus and application system for young people.

“Local action is necessary but it is simply not sufficient to get the potential gains from this great education change next month.

“Conservative ministers have shown they have no commitment to a country where opportunities are widely and fairly shared, and all young people have the chance to flourish. Instead, they have washed their hands of the rise in the leaving age.”