AM calls for compulsory school age to rise to 18

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

This week’s short debate was led by Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) on the school leaving age.

The damaging, long-term effect of NEETs

Lynne Neagle said that previous debates on raising the school leaving age were based on economic necessity – such as raising skills to create more white-collar workers. This time, however, it was more about personal resilience and preventing young people becoming NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) – which comes with a range of mental health and wider socio-economic issues.

A Swansea University review from 2014 recommended the Welsh Government ensure that all 16-18-year-olds were supported in education or work-based training, which could be enabled by raising the school leaving age to 18. There was a particular problem with the estimated third of Year 11 pupils who leave school without 5 good GCSEs (grades A*-C).

“The options that face those young people are too confusing, limited and not fit for purpose. The report, again based on young people’s actual lived experience, says that the current plethora of courses and programmes means that a minority simply bounce around different schemes before becoming long-term NEET, with negative consequences for the rest of their lives.”
– Lynne Neagle AM

All this confusion justifies a move to extend compulsory education to age 18. This has happened in England and the proportion of NEETs has dropped. However, England adopted the policy without considering the additional support pupils who would’ve otherwise left school at 16 and become NEETs actually need.

In her opinion, there were clear advantages in Wales compared to England: a clear comprehensive education system with minimal market involvement (making an increase in the compulsory school age easier to implement across different settings) as well as current curriculum reforms.

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), said continuing and adult education shouldn’t be ignored; the over-50s were one of the largest groups of unemployed. Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) added the importance of apprenticeships.

No policy doesn’t mean a lack of provision

Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), said that while there was no official policy to raise the compulsory education age to 18, that didn’t mean nothing was available:

“We are ambitious in our agenda to reform the post-16 strategic funding and planning context through our post-compulsory education and training proposals, including a new commission for tertiary education and research.”
– Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt

The Welsh Government were yet to be convinced that compulsory education to 18 was a better option that generally improved post-16 education. All young people at post-16 are offered a minimum of 30 academic and vocational choices.

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