It has been announced that pupils starting secondary school education this week will be the first legally bound to stay in education until they are 17.

The education system has seen many changes recently, the most striking that it will be compulsory to carry on some form of education or training up to the age of 17, with the Government's Education and Skills Bill expected to come up in the next Parliamentary session.

This is the first time in 36 years that the school leaving age is set to rise, with the last changes being made in 1972 when the leaving age was raised from 15 to 16. However, the change won't stop there, as the Government is aiming to raise the legal leaving age yet again, with pupils legally obliged to stay in education up to the age of 18 by 2015.

Some merely see this as the Government's solution to cutting unemployment figures, but ministers insist this is an efficient way to reduce the numbers aged 16 to 18 not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

It is estimated that there are some 200,000 16-18 year olds not in education, employment or training, and raising the school leaving age will allow pupils, who originally planned to leave school without an idea of what to do, to make the right choices and find the path to a successful career.

Pupils will not have to stay in school when this year's secondary starters reach the age of 16, they will be given the choice of pursuing education or training at school, college, a work-based training scheme or as part of a job. Those who choose to enter employment will have to receive one day of training per week. Pupils will be able to enrol for one year or short courses and could be entitled to Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) as long as they progress.

As well as the changes to the school leaving age, there have also been developments in the school's curriculum, with a host of new diplomas being introduced across England.

With one in five pupils currently leaving school at the age of 16, and the amount of unskilled jobs decreasing within England, the Government has decided that the education or training provided should hold a more vocational and work-based structure.

The first five new diplomas being introduced to schools are concerned with creative and media, information technology, health and social care, construction and the built environment and engineering.

Ministers believe these new diplomas will leave pupils better equipped for a working life, giving them some of the skills and training they need for the job before they have even left school.

Anne Pinney, assistant director of policy and research at the charity Barnardo's, said: "Our experience tells us that well-supported vocational training can motivate young people who have had a poor time at school, getting them back on track towards future achievement."

Schools Secretary Ed Balls believes the Government's plans to raise the school leaving age is essential to build economic strength in the country and help disadvantaged pupils who lack direction.

However, some MPs have attacked the plans, which would offer them the chance to gain these vital skills and training, with Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove saying that giving young people the chance to continue with their education was an “unalloyed good,” and that he wants to expand opportunity for pupils, not coerce them legally into staying on.

Ed Balls insists: “This isn't a bill to raise the school leaving age, and we don't anticipate a rise in the number of full-time school or college students. The biggest rise will be in people on apprenticeships, with 100,000 more by 2013.”

He claims a national scheme will come in place that will allow potential apprentices and employers to be matched up, adding that: “Strengthened information, advice and guidance for young people is an integral part of this bill ... No one will be left out on the basis that it’s just not for them or it’s too hard to meet their needs.”

By Natalie Hailes

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