Moves to Make 18 the New Leaving Age in School Reform; EDUCATION SECRETARY KELLY AND HER 'RADICAL PROPOSALS' FOR SECONDARY SYSTEM

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL WAUGH

EDUCATION SECRETARY Ruth Kelly will tomorrow unveil groundbreaking plans effectively to raise the school-leaving age from 16 to 18.

In an interview with the Standard, Ms Kelly vowed that the long-awaited Education White Paper will reward high-performing schools and allow more children from poor backgrounds to go to Oxford and Cambridge.

She signalled the death knell of old-fashioned comprehensives but hit out at plans by some Downing Street aides to reintroduce selection by ability to state schools.

Ms Kelly's plans to overhaul secondary education, which will be unveiled in the Commons, are expected to include: . Keeping A-levels and GCSEs but with a new A++ grade to stretch the brightest pupils.

. Allowing high-achieving pupils to take exams younger.

. Guaranteeing a place in sixth form, training or apprenticeship for every 16-year-old.

. Moving from "comprehensive schools" to a "comprehensive education" in specialist schools, colleges and on-the-job training.

. "Challenging incentives" for schools that stretch every child, penalties for those that don't.

. Sanctions against parents of disruptive pupils.

The White Paper will be the Government's formal response to a review by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson. He urged the abolition of existing exams and the introduction of a European-style diploma covering all abilities.

Critics claim Ms Kelly and Tony Blair will take the "safe" option by keeping A-levels to reassure middle England ahead of a general election. But the Education Secretary insisted her proposals represented the biggest shake-up in British education for decades.

"This is a radical set of proposals which will transform opportunities for every child and put flesh on the rhetoric of equality of opportunity," she said.

One of the biggest changes is making sure that nobody leaves education or training before the age of 18. Britain is 24th out of 28 industrialised countries for its staying-on rate, with 71 per cent of 16-year-olds staying in education. …