'School is a drag when all you want to do is leave'

Labour's extra pounds 10 won't sway school leavers, reports Yvette Coop er
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The Independent Online
Gordon Brown's plans to cut child benefit for 16- to18-year-olds who stay on in education won't make any difference to Debbie Brooke. Taking their GCSEs this summer at Cranford Community School, a comprehensive in west London, Debbie and her friend Shanel Lyons are the kind of teenagers that the Labour Party wants to persuade to stay on in education and pick up new qualifications.

"Money's a big problem. Mum and dad are a bit strapped for cash," said Debbie. Her three elder sisters all left school at 16 to get jobs, two of them now work at nearby Heathrow airport. Debbie's parents think she should get a job too, and although she hasn't yet made up her mind, the chances are Debbie will stay in education: "I want to prove something to my mum and dad."

Debbie claims cash makes no difference to her plans to stay on. But it may stop her pursuing exactly the career she wants - as a veterinary nurse. A college in Berkshire which runs the pre-veterinary science course she wants to take is too far away, and her parents couldn't afford to keep her there. Either way that pounds 10 a week in child benefit doesn't enter her plans.

Nor does it bother Shanel, to whom leaving school appeals: "Going back to school is a drag, sometimes you feel all you want to do is leave, go somewhere new and meet new people." But she is realistic about the job prospects if she has no qualifications at all. "The only jobs are working in Tesco's - not how most teenagers want to spend the rest of their lives."

Not all Debbie and Shanel's friends will be staying on. Some have left already, and will not be going back to sit their exams. Shanel is convinced that money has made a difference to them: "Some people feel they can't go to college because it will be too expensive." Debbie thinks the pounds 10 child benefit wouldn't affect their decision, but that pounds 30 a week - the kind of cash you could earn on a Youth Training programme - could have an impact.

But they both agree that it would take a lot more than maintenance grants to change many teenagers' minds. Fed up with school, they are desperate to leave, and as Shanel said, "once they've made up their minds, nothing will persuade them to come back".

If Shanel was offered a job tomorrow paying pounds 100 a week, she would snap it up. But pounds 60 a week wouldn't lure her out of education "unless it was something I really wanted to do".

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