Nearly eight month since the government raised the participation age, Mark Corney evaluates a policy that will next year mean young people up to the age of 18 — increased from 17 — must remain in education or be in training.

No one seems to care about 16 and 17-year-olds. Perhaps the reason is that no one cares about the raising of the participation age (RPA).

Since May 2010, tuition funding for 3 to 15-year-olds has been protected for inflation, but not for 16 and 17-year-olds.

True, the Coalition has equalised funding rates between school sixth forms and FE colleges, but this has been achieved through levelling down rather than up.

In addition, financial support for 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time FE and unwaged training has been savaged as Education Maintenance Allowances have been replaced by more restrictive Bursary Grants.

And parents of 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time FE and unwaged training have faced the scaling back of means-tested child tax credit and below inflation increases in means-tested child benefit.

The only crumb of comfort is the extension of free meals to poor full-time students and unwaged trainees in FE colleges and independent providers in line with 16 and 17-year-olds at school sixth forms.

Last September the RPA was raised to the end of the academic year in which a young person reaches 17. It will be increased to the 18th birthday from September 2015.

The RPA should have made 16 and 17-year-olds a priority group for funding. Instead, it is being used as a rationale to support cuts in provision from 18.

The RPA should have made 16 and 17-year-olds a priority group for funding. Instead, it is being used as a rationale to support cuts in provision from 18

At a time when the deficit remains £100bn a-year, nearly double the total Department for Education spending, there is a case for reducing the funding rate for 18-year-olds in full-time FE to 82.5 per cent and mandatory employer cash contributions for apprenticeships.

But with progress to full participation at 16 and 17 so painfully slow, the Coalition must do more than ‘watch and wait’.

The categories which count under the RPA are full-time education, jobs with apprenticeships, and jobs of 20 or more hours per week with part-time education.

At the end of 2012, total participation in the above categories by 16-year-olds was only 87 per cent. This means an extra 13 per cent of 16-year-olds — around 85,000 young people — need to enter RPA-compliant education and training.

More worryingly, overall participation in 2012 was only 80.6 per cent. This means a massive 20 per cent of 17-year-olds — some 130,000 young people — need to enter RPA-compliant education and training from September 2015.

Expanding apprenticeships for 16 and 17-year-olds is clearly part of the solution. But it is difficult to imagine employers offering more places for this age group if they are confronted with mandatory cash contributions, however limited they might be.

Any fall in the 55,000 or so apprenticeship places for 16 and 17-year-olds implies even more young people outside RPA-compliant education and training.

Unless employers rush to offer jobs with part-time accredited training, presumably 16 and 17-year-olds will be expected to join sixth month ‘traineeships’.

A 16-year-old, for example, who has completed a traineeship will face a real dilemma if jobs with apprenticeships fall further and there is no expansion of jobs with part-time education.

Maybe the answer lies in a year-long highly vocational skills training programme for un-waged 16 and 17-year-olds with progression to job with an apprenticeship at 18 when apprenticeship opportunities become increasingly available.

Mark Corney, independent policy consultant

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Click here to read an expert piece on the RPA by Association of Teachers and Lecturers assistant general secretary for policy Nansi Ellis