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Graduation plan for `lost generation'

EVERY TEENAGER should graduate in the American style by the age of 19, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday. He was announcing proposals to rescue a "lost generation" of 161,000 16 to 18-year-olds who have dropped out of education, training and employment.

In this country, students have traditionally graduated from university; in America, they graduate from high school.

American pupils do not have to reach a particular standard to graduate, but Mr Blunkett wants young people to achieve five good GCSEs, or the vocational equivalent, before they receive a graduation certificate.

He is also proposing a new "youth card" offering discounts on travel, leisure facilities and in shops to persuade teenage drop-outs to acquire qualifications.

At present only 73 per cent of 19-year-olds would qualify for the certificate. The Government has set a target of 85 per cent for 2002.

A report from the Social Exclusion Unit, set up by the Prime Minister to find answers to social problems, shows that one in 11 young people between the ages of 16 and 18 is not involved in training, work or education.

The proportion of this lost generation is higher than in most other European countries. A further 300,000 are in dead-end jobs without formal training. They are said to be more likely than their peers to be depressed, in poor health, involved in crime and drugs and to have children.

The report proposes a register of all school leavers to enable advisers in a new careers service to keep track of vulnerable pupils. ll young people will have personal careers advice from the age of 13. From September, ministers are also piloting educational maintenance allowances of up to pounds 50 to encourage teenagers to continue in education.

The Prime Minister, who yesterday hosted a seminar at Downing Street on teenage drop-outs, said: "First, we want to look at ways of giving all young people a challenging common objective to aim for. Second, we must make it worthwhile for young people to stay in education. Third, we must provide better support."

During the seminar, he met two 22-year-olds who explained how they became alienated from education and left school without qualifications.

Baroness Blackstone, the Education minister, said: "These are wasted years for them [young people] and they will find themselves on the fast- track to social exclusion, marginalised and without any opportunity for permanent fulfilling work and most likely to get caught up in crime. This is a high cost for society but a second high cost results because so many of them end up on benefit."

The report suggests that young people would secure their graduation certificates either in full-time education, in vocational education or by studying while at work. It also proposes a review of financial support for individuals in the age group. At present eight different agencies pay for eight different kinds of support.

Ministers also promised that young offenders would be required to undertake 30 hours of education or training a week to ensure they started, or continued, to work towards graduation.

Mr Blunkett is asking the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to work on the concept of "graduation" and a graduation certificate.

Anne McElvoy, Review, page 3