DES Circular 8/71 (1971)

This circular set out arrangements for the raising of the school leaving age to 16 in September 1972.

The text of DES Circular 8/71 was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 30 September 2017.

Circular 8/71 (1971)
Raising of the school leaving age to 16

Department of Education and Science
London: 1971
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

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Circular 8/71
(Department of Education and Science)

Circular No 139/71
(Welsh Office)
24 August 1971

Joint Circular from the





1. Section 35 of the Education Act 1944 provides that, as soon as the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales are satisfied that it has become practicable to raise to sixteen the upper limit of the compulsory school age, they shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council for this purpose. The Government intends to proceed with this measure to take effect from the beginning of the school year 1972/73.

2. Many people will be affected; most of all, children, parents, teachers, governors of schools and local education authorities, but also employers and trade unions. It is important that all of them should have adequate information and sufficient time to make their plans. Both central government and local government have parts to play in informing the public. This circular describes the operation in detail and explains how it will affect pupils according to their date of birth. It also takes stock of the preparation already made and sets out what remains to be done.


3. The effect of raising the school leaving age (RSLA) is to substitute 16 for 15 in all the provisions of the Education Acts which deal with the upper limit of compulsory school age. The change will be made by Order in Council which must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and is subject to negative resolution by either House for a period of forty days. The order will be expressed to come into operation on 1 September 1972. It is intended to lay the draft before Parliament as early as practicable in 1972.


4. The substitution of 16 for 15 as the upper limit of compulsory school age has implications for different parts of the Education Acts and for related legislation.

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i. Leaving Dates

There will continue to be two leaving dates as provided by Section 9 of the Education Act 1962. The change will affect all pupils at direct grant, independent or maintained schools whose fifteenth birthday falls on or after 1 September 1972. Under the present law, such pupils would be entitled to leave school at the end of either the Easter or Summer term 1973 depending on the date of their birthday. The effect of RSLA is that they will have to remain at school for one more year than they would otherwise have done so that -

a. those whose sixteenth birthday falls on any date from 1 SEPTEMBER 1973 TO 31 JANUARY 1974 (INCLUSIVE) will stay at school until the end of the EASTER TERM 1974 and
b. those whose sixteenth birthday falls on any date from 1 FEBRUARY 1974 TO 31 AUGUST 1974 (INCLUSIVE)
will stay at school until the end of the SUMMER TERM 1974.
ii. Special Cases

During 1972/73, there will be a number cf pupils at school who attained their fifteenth birthday before 1 September 1972. Such pupils will not be subject to the new arrangements and will be entitled, if they so wish, to leave school at any time. The position of these pupils is expressly covered by Section 114(6) of the Education Act 1944, the effect of which is that a person who has once ceased to be of compulsory school age can never again be so regarded.

iii. Further Education

Further Education colleges will no longer be empowered to provide a full-time education for pupils in the 15-16 age group, since further education is defined - in Section 41 of the Education Act 1944 - as education provided for persons over compulsory school leaving age. This does not, however, preclude the development of linked courses between schools and further education (see paragraph 18 below).

iv. Maintenance Allowances

Maintenance allowances payable under Regulations made under Section 81 of the Education Act 1944 are available only for children above compulsory school age. From 1 September 1972 such allowances will not therefore be payable in respect of children of 15 unless they are covered by the exception in Section 114(6) mentioned in paragraph 4 ii. above.

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v. Employment and Work Experience

RSLA also has implications for the employment of children. Two issues arise here. First, there will be repercussions on the age at which young people may be employed out of school hours under the provisions of Section 18 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. Second, RSLA will affect the minimum age at which pupils may take part in work experience or similar schemes organised by schools in industrial and other undertakings: while the law remains in its present form they will be subject to the restrictions set out in Administrative Memorandum 12/69 of 19 June 1969 so long as they are of compulsory school age. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Social Services, and the Secretary of State for Employment are currently considering, in consultation with all those concerned, how best to resolve these two issues. In addition, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is considering the effect of RSLA on the minimum age at which children may drive or ride tractors and other agricultural machines under the Agriculture (Safety. Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956. At present the minimum age is two years below the school leaving age.

Special Schools for Handicapped Pupils

5. There will be no change in the present minimum leaving age for pupils at special schools who, under Section 38(1) of the Education Act, 1944, are already deemed to be of compulsory age until the age of 16. The present arrangements whereby authorities may pay maintenance allowances by virtue of Section 2 of the Education Act, 1964, in respect of pupils at special schools from the age of 15 while the school leaving age for pupils at secondary schools is 15, will lapse in 1972/73.


6. Because the proportion of the age group remaining voluntarily at school after 15 varies between areas the impact of RSLA will differ greatly between one local education authority and another. All should examine the progress they have made so far, and consider what further steps may be necessary. The remaining paragraphs of this section set out, under various headings, the main preparations which have been made on a national basis and suggest some general considerations for the guidance of authorities.


7. A total of 100m spread over the three years 1970-73 was allocated in April 1969 to enable local education authorities and voluntary bodies to provide accommodation for the extra age group. Authorities' share of this total were calculated on the best statistical information then available, taking account of the places estimated to be available in existing schools. The aim to give each authority a fair share was generally achieved; a small reserve which was held back to enable adjustments to be made in the light of later information was

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distributed earlier this year. After allowing for the raising of the cost limits for school building in April 1970 and April 1971, the total value of the RSLA allocations is now about 125m.

8. Authorities were left free to decide how best to use their allocations. Some are building complete new secondary schools or enlarging existing ones; others are adding places to primary schools in preparation for a change in the age of transfer from primary to secondary education or are providing additional accommodation as part of a plan to introduce middle schools.

9. Building preparations were well in hand at the end of March when 120 authorities had submitted outline proposals covering the whole three-year period and almost all the projects covered by the allocations for 1970/71 had been started. The Secretaries of State are confident that authorities will continue to press ahead with their building plans so that suitable and properly equipped accommodation will be ready in time.


10. When the decision to raise the school leaving age was taken in 1964, it seemed probable that immediately after the age was raised there would be a sharp deterioration in pupil-teacher ratio. This now seems unlikely to happen. The size of the teaching force is increasing faster than ever before and in 1973/74, the year in which the extra burden falls on the schools, the increase in teacher numbers should be very nearly, if not quite, sufficient to match the rise in the numbers of pupils in the schools, so that the pupil-teacher ratios will deteriorate, if at all, by only a small amount. In the following year the improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio should be resumed.

11. RSLA has implications both for the initial training of teachers and for their further training. The impact of RSLA will be felt not only in the last year of school but throughout the secondary course and this should be recognised in the initial training provided for those who will teach the secondary age ranges. Colleges of Education may generally be expected to deal with RSLA by emphasising the relevant points in existing secondary courses, particularly in education, rather than by mounting special initial training courses. Over 40 colleges at present offer youth options in their curricula which include training in personal relationships, and the experience they have gained should be valuable in preparing teachers to meet the special needs of the pupils affected by RSLA. Those most likely to be 'working with the age groups concerned will be teachers of some years experience. I n-service training of all types will therefore form an important part of the preparations for RSLA, and can increasingly be expected to concentrate on helping teachers prepare for the longer secondary course.


12. Buildings are important; and teachers are more important still, but the raising of the school leaving age will be judged by the quality of the education provided. RSLA ought not to consist simply of tacking on an "extra

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year" but should involve a review of the curriculum as a whole, so that the years up to 16 represent a coherent educational experience for all secondary pupils. Unless a school's approach meets the needs and retains the interest of its pupils, attractive buildings will not reconcile the reluctant minority to an additional year of compulsory education. There are already growing numbers of boys and girls staying on until 16 and beyond in order to take external examinations and acquire qualifications. For these, the examinations themselves provide a goal and to some extent shape the curriculum. For some of the children who are not staying on voluntarily the courses geared to examinations may prove attractive. But for many others it is not to be expected that courses with a large element of preparation for examinations will be either attractive or suitable. There will inevitably be many 15 to 16 year olds who will be very conscious of the contrast between their own increasing physical maturity and their interest in life outside school and their continued schoolboy or schoolgirl status.

13. Many schools are developing courses of an outward looking kind which help pupils in these age groups to see the relevance to their future life of what they do at school. The courses will often have a substantial practical element with an emphasis on real tasks undertaken with adult equipment. The planning of work across subject boundaries can make it easier to involve pupils in outside activities. These may include visits to shops and factories as well as to museums and galleries. In a similar way, contact may be achieved with the work and active life of the various social services. There may also be opportunities to run linked courses which make use of the staff and accommodation of local colleges of further education (see also paragraph 18). Such programmes of work may often be possible within a school organisation which does not make a sharp division between "examination" and "non-examination" groups. Courses can be devised which both satisfy the less academically inclined and allow them to attempt external examinations in one or more subjects. Recent developments in examining, which allow more freedom to schools in devising their own syllabus and examining methods, have favoured this approach.

14. At its first meeting in October 1964, the Schools Council decided that high priority should be given to a programme of activity in preparation for RSLA. It took as its starting point the recommendations of the Newsom Report and its first views are set out in Working Paper No 2 "Raising the School Leaving Age" and the Schools Council Committee for Wales publication "Another Year to Endure or Enjoy?". A great deal of its research development work has been directed towards revising the secondary school curriculum in various subjects with the needs of the young school leaver particularly in mind. An account of the work of the Council and a full list of its publications is contained in "The First Three Years 1964/67" and in subsequent annual reports of the Council. These show that the Council's programme attempts to provide not only teaching material and information about methods and content of teaching which have already been practised successfully but also supporting evidence for what might otherwise remain speculative. This communication of ideas and experience may help teachers to think anew about the curriculum but suggestions and advice, whatever their source, need to be considered carefully in the light of local circumstances. The establishment of about 480 teachers' centres, to which the Schools Council has given its encouragement,

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has provided in many areas the means whereby local curriculum development work is going forward. In the end, more will depend on local initiative than on the work of national projects and the lasting effect of the Schools Council's' work will best be measured by the extent to which local development emerges to meet local need.

Guidance on Careers and Educational Opportunities after 16

15. More pupils than do so at present can benefit by pursuing their education after 16 either full-time or part-time. It will, therefore, be of great importance for schools to ensure that each pupil receives full guidance on the opportunities open to him after his final year of compulsory schooling - for example:

i. staying on at school with the aim of entry into higher education;

ii. entering a college of further education on a full-time basis, with the aim of following a vocational course or entering higher education by this route;

iii. pursuing a general education after 16 either in school or college;

iv. leaving school and entering employment, but continuing education part-time in a college through day release.

16. The provision of guidance and counselling is, of course, the responsibility of a school throughout a pupil's education; but with the raising of the school leaving age it will be particularly important for a pupil to receive effective guidance before reaching 16 so that, in consultation with his parents and teachers, he can reach the most appropriate decision on the route he is to follow at the end of his compulsory schooling. While pupils should be encouraged to pursue their education after 16, they should do so with a clear and realistic objective following the course most suited to their needs.

17. The extra year at school will provide opportunities for better preparation for the transition from school to work. Pupils who would otherwise have left at 15 will have more time to develop their understanding of the world of work and their role in it and to decide whether by staying on at school beyond the new leaving age they would equip themselves better for employment. Schools can take advantage of this situation, by further developing schemes of careers education in close association with the Careers Officers of the Youth Employment Service.

Further Education

18. As explained in paragraph 4 iii, it will no longer be possible after 1972/73 for boys and girls in the 15-16 age group to leave school and to undertake full-time courses in colleges of further education. In many areas, however, colleges of further education have already been co-operating with schools in the provision of "linked courses", ie courses in which pupils still at school attend a college for part of their education, generally for one, but

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sometimes for two days a week. The majority of linked courses have a vocational element, being based on subjects such as commerce, engineering, catering, applied science or building, but they are neither full nor complete vocational courses and do not in themselves lead to vocational qualifications. The aim is to introduce young people, within the context of a continuing general education, to vocational knowledge and techniques. The students gain an idea of what certain occupations would be like and sample the type of related full or part-time further education course they might decide to follow after the age of 16. It is likely that more young people could benefit from the further development of courses of this type. Linked courses have also been arranged successfully for children following more academic courses in schools, but able to benefit from the experience of using college facilities, eg in applied science.

Publicity and Information

19. The changes described in paragraphs 4 and 5 are of some complexity and the Departments and authorities both have a responsibility to ensure that the general public, particularly the parents of the children in the age-group which will be immediately affected, are clearly informed of the implications for them.

20. The Department and the Welsh Education Office will be seeking to give general publicity during the rest of the year to the changes which are proposed and the Secretary of State hopes that authorities will co-operate in fitting their own publicity measures into the various stages of the national campaign so that a concerted effort can be made in the early months of 1972 and again during the summer term. At the beginning of 1972 a leaflet will be offered to authorities for free distribution to the parents of children who will be affected by the change. The content of the leaflet will be the subject of further consultation with the educational associations. It is also hoped to offer posters for local use. This material will be supported by short television items and, at greater depth, there will be articles and reviews in all the Department's regular publications: "Trends in Education", "Reports on Education", and "On Course".

21. The Secretary of State believes that the understanding and confidence of parents will be fostered best by a coherent and co-ordinated exercise at both national and local levels. In addition to the national measures proposed, substantial locally organised activity will be required if the most helpful and lasting kind of information is to reach all who need it. It is intended that, during the course of 1972, publicity should swing increasingly to the localities, culminating, for example, in school and area events during the summer term. Many schools have open days and displays towards the end of the school year, and RSLA might well be chosen as a leading topic for exposition in 1972. It may be possible in some areas to organise special weeks around this general theme. Meetings, school displays, briefing the local press, radio and television, and the issue of pamphlets and leaflets, are among the means, which authorities will no doubt also consider, supplementing central action. Indeed, there can be no doubt that these will have deeper and more intimate meaning for parents than more generalised material.

22. This circular has drawn attention both to the implications of RSLA for all concerned and to the preparations that are in hand, nationally and locally.

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There is no doubt, however, that the determining factor in the success of the whole operation will be the energy and ability of the individual school and the individual teacher in applying the resources available to them. This was the lesson of 1947, when the school leaving age was raised to 15, and the Ministry's Annual Report for 1948 summarised the operation in this way:-

"On the whole the picture is encouraging ... the only safe generalisation is that the success or failure of the extra year depended in each school more on the quality of the head and assistant staff than on all the other factors combined. Wherever the teachers showed energy and initiative in providing for the older children, the year was a success whatever the material obstacles. Where these qualities were lacking the year was largely wasted and the children themselves were resentful and frustrated."
On this occasion, "the material obstacles" are far fewer than they were a generation ago in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the machinery to assist curricular development is far more substantial and sophisticated. The Secretary of State is confident that teachers, through their efforts in establishing effective personal relationships with the maturing pupils in school and through close contact with parents, will build upon the foundations that are now being laid so as to ensure a successful transition to the new school leaving age.


23. The preparations which have been summarised in Section IV relate for the most part to the broad national situation. The Secretary of State has a general responsibility for ensuring that the provision in each area is such that the additional year of schooling will provide the children concerned with a valuable educational experience, and therefore wishes to be satisfied as to the steps which local education authorities have taken and are taking in preparation for 1972/73.

24. To this end authorities are requested to submit to the Department or to the Welsh Education Office as soon as possible and, in any case, not later than 1 December 1972, short reports on their state of preparedness. It is not intended to add unduly to authorities' burdens and therefore substantial documents including very detailed material are not required. On the other hand, if authorities wish to attach material which illustrates their various activities, this will be welcomed for it will add to the pool of knowledge available centrally and may assist consideration of whether it would be useful at a later date to give wider circulation to examples of good practice.

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25. It is suggested that the main heads of authorities' reports might usefully correspond to those adopted for the summary included in Section IV above. Where reports show matters requiring further action, it will be helpful if they also indicate the nature and timing of the measures proposed.

WD Pile

Leslie Jones

To Local Education Authority Authorities,
Governors of Voluntary Aided, Special
Agreement and non-maintained Special
Independent Schools
Governors of Direct Grant Schools and
Further Education establishments
Colleges of Education