Thanks to the raising of the participation age, staying on after school no longer means sitting in class after the end-of-day bell rings — it also means big changes for education along with benefits for 17 and 18-year-olds, as Lesley Donoghue explains.

Most parents and adults who work in education will be aware that from September 2013 the government is raising the participation age (RPA) to which all young people in England must continue in education or training.

This effectively means 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 have to continue until their 18th birthday.

This change in law is intended to help young people to achieve national qualifications.

Recent statistics from The Department of Education have shown that 96 per cent of 16-year-olds and 87 per cent of 17-year-olds already choose to remain in education or work-based training after Year 11.

However, the small minority reluctant to continue in learning will now be given an extra push under new RPA legislation, helping them to achieve qualifications between the ages of 16 and 17, which really can help to increase future prospects for youth employment.

From our own research, it would appear that not everyone fully understands the broad range of opportunities RPA presents and the most common misconception is that RPA means children now have to stay on at school until 17.

In fact, RPA makes numerous learning options available and offers young people the freedom to choose the option that is right for them.

RPA is about cultivating young people who are more empowered and ultimately more successful”

This could be full-time education, or work-based learning — such as apprenticeships — full-time work or volunteering alongside studying for part-time accredited qualifications. So this means that students can learn what interests them, in the way that suits them best.

Under this new legislation, FE colleges, schools and training providers 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 will take very seriously at Reading College and we will have dedicated staff and independent careers advisers on hand to support and mentor young people and their parents from the age of 14 who are considering their options.

Part of every student’s curriculum at Reading College would also include 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.

The key message that I would like all educational facilities to deliver to their students and their parents 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.

Those more suited to vocational education have the opportunity to find full-time employment whilst continuing to work towards some form of accreditation and not stay on in education if that is not where their skills lie.

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 and will make young people think about their futures and what they want to achieve in life.

By working together, collaborating with students, their parents and career counsellors, we can make sure that every young person is engaged in developing their learning and ultimately their career.

Lesley Donoghue, principal of Reading College, part of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College Group