THE BLOG
06/09/2013 08:02 BST | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Raising the Participation Age Means More Than Just 'Staying in School'

Young people starting Year 11 this September are the first intake who will have to stay in full-time education or train on the job until they reach the end of their academic year after their 17th birthday. In 2015 this will rise to their 18th birthday.

Raising the participation age has come in for some criticism. Last week A-level student Patrick Kavanagh wrote a blog on this site about how it would be "detrimental" to "force" students to stay on at school. However, nowhere does this new law say that students have to stay at school. (I suspect that this misapprehension was a result of advice he received from his own school; many young people and their parents appear to have been given this kind of advice.)

There are all kinds of alternatives to school - such as Further Education, Sixth Form Colleges and Apprenticeships - where young people can continue to study. Not all young people are suited to staying on at school or continuing with A-levels. They deserve to know about other options, particularly if their interests and skills lie elsewhere. Colleges offer a wide range of vocational and academic courses, many of which can be the perfect stepping stone to their chosen career. They often offer more choice in terms of course range because they are bigger.

The aim behind this reform is to make sure no young person is left behind, that they have the skills to go on to employment and live a full life. This week saw Government introduce plans for young people who do not achieve an A*-C grade in maths or English at GCSE to continue to study the subjects post-16.

Colleges have a long history of helping student who need to improve these skills to progress to their chosen future career. Often this means including maths and English within a given vocational course in what's described as 'functional skills' teaching.

In order for young people to get the most out of staying on in education, they need to be directed to the right place, and to receive effective careers advice and guidance at a relevant age to ensure they know what is available to them. If they do not know about the alternatives, how are they meant to make the right choices for their future? Various research studies indicate that young people are often allowed to choose their options at GCSE or A-level without being told that their choices will prevent them from going on to their desired career. This year there has been an increase in the number of young people with good grades choosing a Higher Apprenticeship over university. One student told AoC researchers that she thought Apprenticeships were for 'dropouts' before doing some research and deciding it was the option that best suited what she wanted for the future.

To make raising the participation meaningful for young people, there also needs to be a choice of high-quality courses which meet their needs, the right financial support and access to affordable convenient transport. The courses young people study post-16 need to be tailored to helping them progress into their chosen career or future path of study, rather than turning them off. The Association of Colleges believes there should be time allocated in the academic year for 14 to 15-year-olds to learn about their future options by visiting other local schools and colleges. If these opportunities are not made, how are young people supposed to know where to go next? If they are not engaged with and encouraged to find what's right for them, we risk a continuing number of young people ending up not in employment, education or training (NEET).

If you are a young person staying on in full-time education who feels school is 'a waste of time', please look at the college option. Through a college, you can continue studying, get access to work-based training through an apprenticeship or make the most of a vocational skills-based course to help you find work.