Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
School Leaving Age
Some people love being in school. They can't get enough of it. However, there are others who can't wait until the second when they are no longer required to continue their formal education. In the world today, nations like England require a compulsory education, meaning it's non-optional education, up to a certain age. What that age is, however, has changed over time, a result of different attitudes about education, work, and the opportunities various members of British society should have. Want to know more? Well then, school is in session.
Compulsory Education Origins
Education was not a guarantee for most people in the world until the 19th century, when many nations started making public education a top priority. In England, this meant changing some fundamental assumptions about social classes, and creating an educational system accessible to all British citizens. This began with the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which established compulsory education for children. This was a new concept for England and introduced many questions. For example, if the government was going to mandate public education, and therefore have to pay for public education, to what age would this be enforced? The first school leaving age, or age at which education was no longer compulsory, was age 10, although the government did provide for education to students up to 13.
20th Century Changes
As British society became more accustomed to the idea of working-class citizens receiving a mandatory education, the school leaving age increased. The first major raising of school leaving age, a formal change in school leaving age policies that in England is often abbreviated as ROSLA, occurred in 1939. Parliament debated to raise the age to 15, although this was delayed due to WWII and not formalized until the Education Act of 1944 and implemented until 1947.
The next big change came in 1964, when Parliament started preparing to raise school leaving age to 16. This change came from concerns that England's levels of education were not on par with other major countries, and was implemented in 1972. England was careful to track the results of this change, partly because the move was very controversial at the time, and later claimed that increasing the school leaving age by a year had drastically increased the average level of education. The children who got an extra year of education did better on government-mandated performance exams. A large number continued on to higher education, and their children tended to seek higher levels of education as well. So, the government saw this change as a success.
Modern School Leaving Age
Fast-forward to 2007. The British government estimated that 200,000 people between the ages of 16 and 18 weren't involved in either education or vocational training. Not only did this raise concerns about England's welfare system, British Ministers also claimed that this would make the nation non-competitive on the global political and economic scale. In short, if England wanted to keep up with the world, it would need to once again raise its school leaving age. This new program was implemented gradually: the school leaving age was raised to 17 in 2013, and 18 in 2015.
So, that's where England is today. Students must be in education until they are 18, but this isn't actually as simple as it seems. You see, every student must actually stay in school until age 16, but after that they have some options. They can either stay in education full time for the next two years, or they can start a formal (and government-recognized) training/apprenticeship program, or they can work/volunteer for 20 hours a week while pursuing a part-time education. So, while all students are required to partake in some form of an education until age 18, what that looks like after age 16 can change based on the student's needs, desires, and financial situation.
This move has not been without controversy. Many are worried about the financial burden this will place on the government. An even greater number have expressed concerns that inequalities across the nation make this program impractical. For example, some of England's more rural areas have fewer educational or apprenticeship options for 16- to 18-year-olds, placing a larger burden on the families to provide transportation for children in these areas. Opponents to the program are also concerned that eliminating the ability of under-performing students to leave school at age 16 will hurt the nation's performance on internationally recognized academic examinations given to students at 18. There are, however, those who also support the raise, pointing back to the success of ROSLA in the 1960s/70s and the impact that had on later British economic and political development. Education is an important thing, and everyone wants to handle it well. According to England, raising the school leaving age may be the best way to do that.
Let's review what we've learned. The school leaving age is the formal age at which students are no longer required by the government to receive an education. This concept dates back to 1870, when England first passed the Elementary Education Action of 1870, which established compulsory education for children, with compulsory education being non-optional education, up to age 10, in this case. At the time, this was controversial because it challenged the nation's strict class system.
In 1939, Parliament decided to raise the age to 15, although this wasn't implemented until after the end of WWII. Called the raising of school leaving age, a formal change in school leaving age policies that in England is often abbreviated as ROSLA. The school leaving age was raised again in 1964 to 16, implemented in 1972. The most recent changes occurred when the age was raised to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. British students today must stay in school until age 16, then must either remain in school or take on vocational training or apprenticeship until age 18. So, now you know a little more about education in England. School's out.
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