The Education and Skills Act makes education or training compulsory until the age of 17 from 2013, and 18 from 2015. Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "This is one of the biggest changes to education and training in a generation and will benefit millions of young people for years to come."
The government also plans to bring in legislation to strengthen its apprenticeships programme, and yesterday signed up Sir Alan Sugar to front an advertising campaign promoting the scheme. Balls said: "We do not expect every 16- and 17-year-old to remain in school - young people will be free to work as long as they are learning too." Other options for young people include A-Levels, GCSEs and diplomas.
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "Barnardo's has supported this legislation because it represents a massive opportunity to improve provision for the thousands of young people who leave school at 16 with few skills and dismal long-term prospects."
But the Act will not help the Government reach its 2010 target of reducing the percentage of 16- to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training (Neet) to 7.6 per cent.
The Government published a briefing yesterday confirming that the current percentage of Neets is 9.4 per cent, and admitting that "we still need to see a significant reduction in Neet to meet the 2010 target". It said that although more young people have taken up education or training, a significant number of 16- to 18-year-olds who had left school and were working are now without employment, moving them to the Neet category.