19/02/2013 09:07 GMT | Updated 21/04/2013 06:12 BST

Demystifying RPA

Most parents and adults who work in education will be aware that the Government (through the Education and Skills Act 2008) is raising the age to which all young people in England must continue in education or training. From 2013, young people will be required to continue in learning until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17 and from 2015 they will be required to continue until their 18th birthday. This change in law is intended to help young people to achieve national qualifications so they go on to have better chances with wider career options.

The most common perception is that this means staying at school until 17, which will suit some young people, but the opportunities are broader than that. From 2013, Year 11 pupils will be required to continue in education or training for at least one more year, but this doesn't mean they will have to stay in school. Instead the message is a very positive one. There are numerous learning options available to young people and they will be free to choose the option that is right for them so they learn what interests them in the way that suits them best. This could be full time education, or work-based learning (such as apprenticeships) or full-time work, or volunteering alongside studying for part-time accredited qualifications.

Recent statistics from The Department of Education show that 96 percent of 16 year olds and 87 percent of 17 year olds already choose to remain in education or work based training after Year 11. However, the small minority who are reluctant to continue in learning are now given an extra push through the RPA changes. Achieving qualifications between the ages of 16 and 17 really can help to increase the future prospects for youth employment. For example, research shows students with just two or more A-Levels earn on average 14 percent more than those without qualifications. RPA is a way to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Under the new legislation further education colleges and schools have an even greater responsibility to students, to monitor attendance, and to ensure that any apprenticeships or other means of training are being delivered properly. This is a duty that we take very seriously at Reading College. We will have dedicated staff and independent careers advisors on hand to support and mentor college students and advise young people from 14 considering their options.

Unfortunately many young people today are leaving education and applying for jobs without the right skillset that employers are looking for. This is difficult start to working life is damaging to confidence levels and can be detrimental to their on-going success. At Reading College we offer a broad range of relevant vocational qualifications as well as traditional academic pathways. Through our close work with employers we are able to develop work ready young people with the mind-set, skills and experience that are valuable to employers, whether they choose to go into work straight away or after a spell at university.

Part of every student's curriculum at Reading College also includes an on-going and personalised development programme called 'The Edge', which is aimed at giving students extra learning opportunities way beyond their qualification. The Edge involves setting practical goals and objectives for pupils to develop skills based on employability and enterprise, and it also looks at wider personal development topics such as safety, well-being and respect for oneself and others.

Whilst post-16 students are assuming responsibility for their futures and ultimately make their own decisions, it's important that parents understand this new legislation.

The Government has committed to work together with businesses to ensure that young people who want to go straight into employment at age 16 can. Those more suited to vocational education have the opportunity to find full-time employment whilst still continuing to work towards some form of accreditation. RPA is about cultivating young people who are more empowered and ultimately more successful. It is about giving young people independence, freedom of choice and increasing their self-esteem.

At Reading College we have a number of specialist programmes in place that are focused on helping our students to go further. We have a very successful department working with local people who are unemployed and need to up skill to get into work. This year 500 apprentices are being trained through the College and we have also recently partnered with Reed Employment. Taking active steps to increase employability, Reed acts as an intermediary recruitment body transitioning students from education to employment. Reed is based at Reading College and offers advice on preparing CVs, practising for interviews and sources employment opportunities that will be ring-fenced for Reading College students.

The key message that I would like all parents and students to go away with is that RPA does not affect the school leaving age in the slightest. Instead, it aims to offer young people the opportunity to continue developing skills and qualifications to encourage learning beyond 16. Students can stay at school, study at college, go to the workplace, undertake apprenticeships or work towards accreditations. RPA makes young people to think about their future and what they want to achieve in life. By working together, collaborating with students, their parents and career counsellors, we can make sure every young person is engaged in developing their learning and ultimately their career.