The British government is moving forward with its plans to make sure that teenagers stay in learning or training until they are 18, but there are growing concerns about whether there will be enough places for all students, according to Richard Garner of The Independent.
The new reform that raises the education participation age by one year to 17 will come into effect next month, and it is the first step towards ensuring all teenagers stay in education and training until they are 18 by 2015.
The legislation, which was driven through the last Parliament, has stoked fears that the government will not be able to accommodate the 600,000 16-year-olds expected to be in the education system this autumn. But according to ministers, massive extra provisions are unnecessary since most 16 to 18-year-olds already engage in some form of education.
Raising the participation age is different from raising the school leaving age. Teenagers can fulfill its purpose by undergoing the equivalent of one day's training a week while employed – or even study flexibly while holding down a full-time job.
A "myth-buster" document about the reform prepared for the Department for Education says: "You will still be able to work full time if you want to or volunteer full time or even set up your own business. You will still be participating as long as you are also doing part-time training which leads to a qualification."
The government did not answer the question of sanctions for teenagers who do not take part, as a suggested £50 fine floated by Labour was ruled to be counter-productive.
The government allocated a bursary fund of £1,200 each for disadvantaged young people such as those in care, teenage parents or the disabled who need financial support. Schools and colleges can top this up for those who need additional help with elements like travelling costs.
Nevertheless, John Healey, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the last Labour Government, reckons the shake-up will be "a massive missed opportunity". Writing in the Municipal Journal, the local government management magazine, he argues that the axing of education maintenance allowances for 16 to 19-year-olds, combined with poor careers guidance, may prevent young people taking advantage of the reforms. Research from Barnardo's had shown the bursaries were failing to offer adequate support. "Teenagers from poorer families will not go to college if they can't afford food, books and transport," he said.
Simon Renton, president of the University and College Union, said: "Students should be encouraged to continue their educationâ¦ but they should not be conscripted into staying on. Successful education enables, not coerces, learners and compulsion is not the way to motivate young people."