Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training - Education Contents

1  Introduction

1. The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, when delivering his Budget Statement in March 2006, told the House that "today, the British economy has just 9 million highly skilled jobs. By 2020, it will need 14 million highly skilled workers. And of 3.4 million unskilled jobs today, we will need only 600,000 by 2020".[1] These predictions, based upon work conducted for Lord Leitch's Review of Skills, published in December 2006, have been much debated and challenged since they were made. However, the need for a more highly skilled workforce is not in doubt. As Lord Leitch himself said, "unless the UK can build on reforms to schools, colleges and universities and make its skills base one of its strengths, UK businesses will find it increasingly difficult to compete".[2]

2. The Government's plan for implementing the proposals made by Lord Leitch in his Final Report recognised that there were ramifications for adult learning, careers advice, higher education, employers, school education, and participation in education and training beyond school age.[3] This Report looks at the last of these fields. Two Government policy decisions underlay our inquiry: the first, dating back to 2007, was to raise the age of compulsory participation in education or training. We do not examine the merits of raising the participation age in our Report: those debates have been held, and the legislation is in place. Instead, our inquiry has concentrated upon the consequences of raising the participation age, how different groups will be affected, and what the options will be for young people subject to the legislation. The second decision dates back only to October 2010, when the Government announced that it would make a significant change to financial support for 16 to 18 year olds in post-compulsory learning, by withdrawing the Education Maintenance Allowance.

3. We announced terms of reference for our inquiry in January 2011. These were:

  • What impact the Education Maintenance Allowance has had on the participation, attendance, achievement and welfare of young people and how effective will be the Discretionary Learner Support Fund in replacing it;
  • What preparations are necessary, for providers and local authorities, for the gradual raising of the participation age to 18 years and what is their current state of readiness; and
  • What impact raising the participation age will have on areas such as academic achievement, access to vocational education and training, student attendance and behaviour, and alternative provision.

4. We received over 70 memoranda, mostly from local authorities, colleges, professional representative bodies, young people in learning, and voluntary sector organisations. We also received over 700 short e-mail submissions from young people, their parents, college staff and Connexions services staff, describing the use made of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the implications of its abolition. The main themes from these submissions are summarised in Annex 2 to this Report. We also held an informal meeting with students from Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney, London: our discussion is summarised in a further Annex, also published with this Report. We are grateful to all those who contributed to the inquiry: the contribution made by young learners themselves was striking.

5. We have, as always, been greatly assisted in our work by our two Specialist Advisers, Professor Alan Smithers and Professor Geoff Whitty.[4]

1   HC Deb 22 March 2006 col 292 Back

2   Prosperity for all in the global economy-world class skills, Final report by Lord Leitch, HM Treasury, December 2006, Executive Summary Back

3   World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England, DIUS, Cm 7181, July 2007 Back

4   Professor Geoff Whitty has declared an interest as a Trustee of the IFS School of Finance. Back

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Prepared 19 July 2011