Major education reforms include £50 fines for school dropouts

School dropouts will face £50 on-the-spot fines as part of a major shake-up of the school year, it has emerged.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families secretary announced details of new legislation to raise the school-leaving age from 16 to 18 in a speech to the Fabian Society today, due to be outlined in the Queen’s speech tomorrow.

Thought to be the biggest education reform for 50 years, Balls also set out a new £100m strategy to tackle the problem of the estimated 10% of young people categorised at any one time not in education, employment or training (Neet).

Under-18s who spend more than six months as Neets will have to actively look for work when they turn 18. Currently dropouts are automatically eligible for jobseekers’ allowance.

Balls said: “As Sandy Leitch’s report said, the demand for high level skills has increased substantially over thepast 20 years and is likely to continue to do so, with a 50% increase in the proportion of jobs that demand high level skills by 2020.

“Raising the participation age is about social justice too – young people who leave education and training at 16 are disproportionately from poor families. Those who leave school early without good skills and qualifications are less likely to get a good job.”

He added: “If we don’t act now to increase participation, it will be the most disadvantaged young people who will be the losers in this new and fast-changing world.”

The government plans to phase in the increase in the education participation age to 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015, Balls said, although earlier this year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned this alone will not be sufficient to increase the UK skills base.

Other measures to be included in the Queen’s speech tomorrow include the creation of a further 90,000 apprenticeships for young people by 2013 (a 60% increase on the current number), and enabling more young people to start programmes during the course of the academic year – such as in January – so that those who drop out can be re-engaged quickly.

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