Raising the participation age

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Every teacher and tutor wants to see their students developing the skills they need to secure their own social and economic well-being.  But how will raising the participation age to 18 give them a better chance of success when they leave school?  And will it really help young people who are already disengaged with education?

For one student at Selby College in Yorkshire, the idea of staying in education post-16 always felt like an impossible dream.  After being taken out of school by his parents because he was being bullied, he returned to education six months later withdrawn, de-motivated and extremely low in self-esteem.  Then he began studying the Foundation Learning programme.  According to Selby College’s Entry to Employment Contact Manager, Philippa Skate, he has since come full circle. 

“By giving him the opportunity to learn in at his own pace, in a fun and practical way, he has built up his confidence and is now one of the most enthusiastic students I teach,” she explains.           

For Philippa’s star pupil, returning to college and studying Foundation Learning has given him the self-confidence and life skills that he needed for a brighter future.  But it could have been a different story – and it still is for some young people who slip out of education at 16 and fall into a life of unemployment and dependency.  For this critical minority, last year’s landmark act to raise the participation age to 18 has the potential to help them achieve more than their counterparts from previous generations. 

Learning for longer will fuel aspiration and achievement because young people who stay in education or training post-16 tend to aim higher and do better.  Add to this recent predictions in the Leitch Review that the number of unskilled workers will shrink significantly in coming years, and it is clear that pupils need to leave education and training with solid qualifications, practical skills and self-confidence if they are going to thrive. 

But re-engaging young people who are disillusioned with education is a tough job.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and different students will require a different approach to give them better chances later on in life.  For Philippa, the achievements of her students have depended on giving them the opportunity to study in a way that suits their interests and learning styles. 

“All the young people I work with have barriers to education and are at risk of becoming NEET”, she says, “but Foundation Learning is helping them to see how education can work for them, that they can achieve high and be successful.”
Philippa’s success confirms what much of the education community already knows – that young people respond to different styles of teaching and they are motivated in different ways.  The 14-19 reforms mean that every young person can find a pathway that is right for them, with a choice of GCSEs, A levels, the Diploma, Apprenticeships and Foundation Learning among others.  They can also go into employment or volunteering from the age of 16, as long as they continue in part-time education or training to gain further skills and qualifications.

The options are there.  For schools and local authorities, the challenge now lies in ensuring young people are shown the right assistance to take full advantage of these opportunities, including high quality support to keep them on track. 

The government’s newly launched Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) strategy provides the framework to support young people’s choices at every stage of their education and training.  For some young people who have grown up in families and households where unemployment is the norm and there is no knowledge of the education, training and employment options available, this support will be invaluable.  For others, having the opportunity to talk through the different options means making the right choices is less daunting. 

While local authorities are responsible for providing IAG, schools have a key role to play in ensuring their pupils have the help they need to make confident choices about their learning pathways. 

Collaboration is key. Already schools, colleges, local authorities, Connexions advisers and employers are working together to coordinate a wide array of education and training options for young people.

Linda Taylor is the Careers and WRL Manager at Deepings School in Peterborough.  One initiative she recently led with nearby New College Stamford focussed on showing potential NEET students the value of staying on in education, rather than heading into the job market under-prepared. 

A presentation about the range of qualifications that the college offered was given to a group of students who were struggling to decide what they wanted to do next and were identified as at risk of not progressing.

These sessions resulted in 12 young people enrolling on college courses to stay in learning instead of dropping out altogether – an achievement which Linda believes will give them greater chances of a successful career later on.

“Young people need to be made aware of new qualifications and know what their options are,” she says. “I want to help our students get the skills and knowledge they need to manage their careers and become confident, capable individuals.”

Raising the participation age means that opting out is no longer an option, but there is still a job for schools and colleges to work with each and every pupil to help them enjoy success and fulfilment later in life.  Schools need to provide the right support so that young people and their families can raise their aspirations and choose the right pathway for them.

By working together to support the implementation of RPA, and communicating the wider choice of qualifications available for 14 to 19 year olds through high quality IAG provision, the education workforce can help to make bleak futures a thing of the past.

Where to go and what to do?  An outline of the learning pathways

  • GCSEs and A Levels
    • Well-trusted options which have been updated to make them more stretching and challenging.
  • Foundation, Higher or Advanced Diploma
    • Foundation and Higher Diploma: Mainly taken as two-year course for 14 to 16 year olds within the national curriculum.  Ten subjects are currently available and five additional subjects will launch in September 2010.
    • Advanced Diploma: Two-year, level 3 programme taken in school sixth form, sixth-form college of FE college.  Ten subjects are currently available and five additional subjects will launch in September 2010.
  • Foundation Learning
    A national programme mainly for students at entry level or level 1, either taken at school or college.  Length of time will vary, but Foundation Learning covers: vocational or subject learning that includes both generic skills for work and more subject and sector-specific skills; personal and social development; functional skills
  • Apprenticeships
    As employees, apprentices can earn a wage and work alongside experienced staff to gain job-specific skills.  Off the job, usually on day-release at college or with private and third sector training providers, apprentices receive training for nationally recognised qualifications
  • Employment with training
    At 16 a young person can take a job, but ideally should continue to develop skills by taking a course leading to a nationally recognised qualification.  After the participation age is raised in 2013, all young people taking up work at 16 will continue learning part-time for an accredited qualification.  

Raising participation – the schedule of changes

In 2013 al young people will be required to continue in education or training, up to the age of 17.  In 2015 they will continue in education or training up to the age of 18. 

  • 2008 Education and Skills Act passed: first cohort that will all participate post-16 starts at secondary school
  • 2009 First cohort that will all participate to 18 starts secondary school; trials for RPA start in 11 areas
  • 2010 DCSF review of good practice in schools in tackling key stage 3 disengagement; funding for all 16-19 education passes to local authorities
  • 2011 Pupil and Parent guarantees in place
  • 2013 Entitlement to an offer of an apprenticeship or to study a Diploma in place.  Foundation Learning in place across the country. The first cohort to be affected all participate for one more academic year
  • 2015 All young people participate in education or training until at least 18

Further information on RPA and the 14-19 reforms is available from www.dcsf.gov.uk/14-19/rpa

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