Staying on at 17 will not benefit most pupils says RGS head

Thousands more teenagers will be heading back to school today after the school leaving age was raised to 17

Dr Bernard Trafford Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Jesmond
Dr Bernard Trafford Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Jesmond

Forcing teenagers to remain in education for longer will not solve underachievement a top North East headteacher has warned.

Tens of thousands of pupils will stay in school or train for an extra year as the education leaving age is raised this week for the first time in over 40 years.

Youngsters who received their GCSE results this summer will continue some form of studying until they are 17 in a move to raise the education participation age. From 2015 this will be increased to 18.

This does not mean young people must stay at school but instead can go to college or into full-time work while studying part-time.

It was also announced today that pupils who fail to score decent grades in their English and maths GCSEs will have to continue studying these subjects,

Figures show among young people aged 19 last year, 285,000 had left school at age 16 without a C or higher in both English and maths, and by the time they were 19, 255,000 had still not reached this level.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “Good qualifications in English and maths are what employers demand before all others. They are, quite simply, the most important vocational skills a young person can have.“

But concerns have been raised over awareness of the changes with one charity warning that the poorest teenagers could be labelled as truants if they are unable to afford to stay in education. School leaders have also expressed doubt about how the changes will help improve pupils’ prospects.

Bernard Trafford, headteacher of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School (RGS), said: “I don’t think any arbitrary change of age is the answer. If something is not working for these young people at 16, will it be any better for them by 17? It is not addressing the root of the problem.

“Too many children are being forced along an academic route which is not right for them. The vocational alternatives remain very few and it is very odd that these skills do not seem to be valued in this country. I think the Government need to get a bit more real.”

An extra 52,000 young people will be staying on this year, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.

The charity claimed many of these youngsters, who would previously have dropped out of education and become “NEET” (not in education, employment or training), could face financial hardship and social problems.

Barnardo’s assistant director of policy Jonathan Rallings said: “The opportunity to continue learning for an extra year is a golden one for the most disadvantaged students, but if they can’t afford or use this chance properly the risk is they will go from being ‘NEETs’ to truants.”

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