A new report from a left-of-centre thinktank has warned the Coalition is “sleepwalking” into the raised participation age and called for it to “rethink what the offer for 14 to 19-year-olds should be all about”.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report Avoiding the Same Mistakes: Lessons for Reform of 14 to 19 Education in England, published today, goes on to urge the government to look at “particularly how all the 16 to 18-year-olds who will now be staying in education or training can really benefit from this extra participation”.

It says: “It does not seem that there has been much coherent thought about how to ensure that such a significant change in leaving age will result in better outcomes for young people and a better system overall.

“Rather than simply sleepwalking into the raised participation age, it is time to rethink what the offer for 14 to 19-year-olds should be all about, and particularly how all the 16 18-year-olds who will now be staying in education or training can really benefit from this extra participation.”

The 20-page report claims other countries with similar economies, such as the Netherlands, have shown it is possible to bridge the gap between employers and education with mechanisms for engaging both sides. Employers, it says, are engaged consistently in qualification design and in offering apprenticeships and work placements for young people, helping them to move more smoothly from education to work or further study.

It also looks at the vocational education and training (Vet) system of Australia to arrive at recommendations for England’s system.  It says that reforms in England have “tended to focus excessively on changing the structure and content of qualifications, rather than on the wider system – this should not be the future starting point”. It also says: “We need to ensure that our Vet system is supported by strong, simple and stable institutions that bring together employers, providers and the state.” And that “apprenticeships are important, but high-quality pathways for all young people will require stronger provision in schools and colleges as well.”

Louise Evans, IPPR senior research fellow, said: “As we enter 2015 – the year when 18-year-olds in England will be required to participate in education and training for the first time – it is important that we learn from other similar economies, such as the Netherlands and Australia, who have better rates of participation and youth unemployment. Our research shows that these countries have clearer transition systems from education to work, particularly supported by strong vocational education for young people.

“This means moving on from further, isolated qualification reform. We need strong college-based vocational route alongside further apprenticeships, all supported by simple, strong structures to involve employers in this phase of education.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Associaiton of Colleges, said: “FE colleges are uniquely well placed to take on the role of expanding higher technical, professional and vocational education but to do this there needs to be a two-way street with employers being fully engaged as partners in this work. We must work together continuously to co-create meaningful qualifications for today’s fast-changing global skills economy.”

He added: “For the UK economy to succeed there needs to be a strong vocational system in place. Despite the political parties’ obsession with apprenticeships, these are only a part of the answer. We need employers and the college community to work together to look at ways to give young people a good, robust skills-based education to start them on their choice of career path with business-ready skills.”