Johnson: Children should be in education until 18

Britain’s children should remain in education until they are 18-years-old, education secretary Alan Johnson has said.

The minister said it was unacceptable for people to enter full-time work at 16.

Mr Johnson noted it used to be normal to see children leaving school and working at 14, but that is now unacceptable.

“It should be just as unacceptable [now] to see a 16-year-old just working and not doing anything else or receiving any training and skills.”

And Gordon Brown, clear favourite to become prime minister after Tony Blair resigns, backed the sentiment behind these words.

“We’ve got to keep young people educated past 16, whether it’s training in work, or in college, or staying on at school,” the chancellor said today.

The government already provides a financial incentive for people wanting to stay on in education past the age of 16.

Under the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scheme teenagers continuing education after completing their GCSEs can receive up to £30 per week.

When this is combined with the bonuses available for attendances, pupils from lower earning families can receive as much as £1,500 over two years – simply by going to school.

But despite this, the UK has one of the worst continuance rates for 16-year-olds in the industrialised world.

OECD figures from 2004 show the UK is 23rd out of 30 countries in attendance post-16.

And to try and boost this figure, Mr Johnson said he was looking at increasing the minimum age Britons are allowed to leave education to 18.

The last time the minimum age was raised, from 15 to 16, was in 1972.