Should the School Leaving Age be Raised to 18?

In 1972, the UK raised the school leaving age to 16. Now there are plans to raise the school leaving age to 18. This means people under 18, would either have to stay in school or receive some kind of vocational training.

Benefits of Raising the School Leaving Age

  • Helps to tackle youth unemployment. In the UK, average unemployment rates are 8%, but youth unemployment amongst under 25s is running at 23%. Raising the school leaving age will hopefully mean more young people enter the job market with either A-levels or vocational training qualifications. Also, 16 and 17-year-olds would not be competing for work.
  • Helps prevent Social Problems arising from youth unemployment. If young people leave school with no qualifications and struggle to find work, there is an increased risk of social problems such as crime, vandalism and alienation. Education and training can help improve the motivation and skill level of young workers.
  • Danny Blanchflower recently advocated the increase in the school leaving age, arguing this could play a pivotal role in reducing youth unemployment. He gives an example of Northern Ireland and warns youth unemployment has potential to undo good work of peace process. (Guardian link)
  • Skills in higher demand in the global economy. Because of globalisation and the relative decline of British manufacturing sector, there are less ‘low-skilled’ manual labour jobs. Young people entering labour market face a more competitive labour market. Without some skills or education, they will find it difficult to get a suitable job.

Problems of Raising the School Leaving Age

  • Pupils who don’t want to be in education can make school disruptive and cause problems for teachers and other pupils. If non-academic students have to study, when they would rather be elsewhere, it can have a knock-on effect on quality of secondary education. Evidence from Spain found that after raising the school leaving age to 16, there was a big increase in teacher absenteeism. (Guardian link)
  • Free choice. Arguably, people over 16, should be allowed to make their own choices about what they want to do. Up to now, we have allowed people to join the army, aged only 16.

Evaluation of Raising the School Leaving Age

  • The success of this policy depends on the quality and choice of education/training schemes. If there is little available choice for vocational training, non-academic students may find themselves forced to do A-Levels against their will. This could have negative consequences for others who are more interested in learning.
  • However, if 16 years olds have a wide range of studying options to choose from, it may be easier to give the training or education that young people will benefit from. This may require an expansion of vocational training, and possibly a change in attitudes which gives vocational training a similar prestige to academic qualifications.
  • It depends on the quality of vocational training. There is a concern young students could be forced into doing ‘worthless qualifications’
  • 76% of 16-17-year-olds currently receive some form of education or training.


3 thoughts on “Should the School Leaving Age be Raised to 18?”

  1. Raising the school leaving age because of youth unemployment is not going to work. It might be the only thing some can think of for now, but it will not solve the problems. The leaving age has been raised time and again, another raise will not make things any better in the current situation, it would just add to the problems already in being. It would be positive if some students were allowed to stay on for another two years for certain subjects if they were in a position to do so, far better than university and a huge debt at the end of it for those who are less well off. Things are getting worse with each year now, another two years for each pupil would choke up the schools completely, The funds are being cut, where would the money come from?


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