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KCC faces £30m increase in education costs

Extending the age at which students must stay on at school or in some form of training could cost Kent County Council £30million a year.

The council says the Government’s plans to raise the school leaving age to 18 by 2015 could leave it having to find millions of pounds more to fund courses, apprenticeship schemes and work placements.

The move to raise what the government calls the ‘participation age’ was outlined last year in the Queen’s Speech.

It is aimed at plugging key skills shortages and tackling the problem of young people leaving education without qualifications or workplace skills.

By 2013, all pupils in England will have to stay in education or training until the end of the school year in which they turn 17. By 2015, this leaving age will be raised to the 18th birthday. It would mean raising the leaving age for the first time since 1972, when it became 16 years old.

In practice, the government says its reforms will not mean students will be compelled to stay on in school. But they will be required to take some kind of training, possibly through apprenticeship schemes.

A report to KCC’s cabinet on the reforms highlights how the move could leave the authority facing annual costs of £30million, based on the Government’s estimate of the national costs of implementing the scheme.

The report states: "Our best estimate is that the costs of increasing participation from the current 74 per cent level of participation in education and training by 17-year-olds in Kent compared to the national 76 per cent level...could cost around £29 million annually."

However, once the costs of improving opportunities for students with special needs and the additional ‘significant’ transport costs are included, that figure - according to KCC - rises to £30million.

Cllr Mark Dance, KCC cabinet member for schools operations, said he opposed the idea of raising the statutory staying-on age and expressed concern that the Department for Children Schools and Families had not yet indicated where the money could come from.

"We are potentially creating problems if we try to compel people to take up training. We need flexibility and not have the Government dictate to us what it wants. Training is needed that attracts people to take part, not forces them," he said.

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