Malcolm Wicks

The Minister for Lifelong Learning responds to an article that questioned the viability of the Government campaign to encourage children to stay in school
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The Independent Online

I was interested to read Deborah Orr's column in last Friday's Independent ("The awful tragedy of teenage life", 11 August). I agreed with her description of higher and further education as offering enormous opportunities to young people.

I was interested to read Deborah Orr's column in last Friday's Independent ("The awful tragedy of teenage life", 11 August). I agreed with her description of higher and further education as offering enormous opportunities to young people.

Deborah's piece criticised the Government's Don't Quit Now campaign, which was launched last week with help from Harry Enfield in the form of his Kevin the Teenager character.

The piece characterised the campaign as having a dour focus on young people leaving school at 16. It implied that we were being rather boring by encouraging them to stay on in education or training to help them to get a job.

The article went on to say that we should have pointed out the "real" benefits of higher and further education - a chance to move out of the parental home and enjoy a great social life!

I would have loved to encourage these young people - who often leave school with just a couple of GCSEs - to take part in a wide range of activities at university. Unfortunately, few of them are ever going to make it to higher education if they quit learning at 16.

What we are doing is to try to raise awareness of the opportunities that exist at 16 - a serious purpose, approached with a light-hearted touch.

We hope to encourage more 16-year-olds to stay on at school, go to a further education college or take a modern apprenticeship. These options may not lead straight to the Cambridge Footlights, but they do offer the chance to gain real skills and qualifications. They give young people a sense of purpose and a prospect of a decent future.

It is refreshing to have the opportunity to debate the rights and wrongs of how to reach young people.

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