From education to employment

Education and Skills Bill receives second reading

The Lib Dems have criticised Government plans to keep all young people in education or training until the age of 18.

The Education and Skills Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday. Ed Balls, the Minister for Schools, Children and Families said to raise the school leaving age to 18 was essential both economically and for social justice. He added: “If we do not act now to increase participation, it is the most disadvantaged young people who will be the losers in this new and fast-changing world.”

But Lib Dem Children and Schools spokesman, David Laws, said: “While we support the Government’s aspiration that more young people should be in education or training until 18, we cannot support the powers to compel and criminalise which are contained in this Bill.

“This Bill contains one of the biggest increases in state powers over the individual for many years. It is totally illiberal. And it is frankly bizarre that at a time when the Government is considering giving the vote to 16 year olds, it also believes in criminalising young adults who don”t conform to the expectations of ministers.

“Some young people will not want, or even be able, to stay in education or training after 16, but they may want to take up these opportunities at age 18 or 20 – this should be their choice.

“We will seek to amend this Bill to give people the entitlement to take these extra two years of education and training when they wish to, not when Gordon Brown tells them to. And we will seek to remove powers to criminalise those who do not conform.

Mr Balls was at pains to point out that this was not simply a Bill to raise the school leaving age, as has widely been reported: “Our projections do not anticipate a rise in the number of full-time school or college students over 16. We anticipate that the biggest rise in participation will be among people in apprenticeships””we forecast 100,000 more apprentices in 2013″”and those in full-time work who will get training as a result of the Bill.

But Michael Gove, the Shadow Secretary for Children voiced concerns over apprenticeships. He said: “One of our key concerns is that the Bill may price 16 and 17-year-olds out of the marketplace as a result of the costs of compliance, because every firm that hires them will have to monitor where they are when they go to college and find a replacement for them during the 20 per cent of the working week when they are not there. The additional costs will be considerable.”

Rosie Spowart

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