Ian Pryce (pictured), chief executive of Bedford College, said that to allow young people access to college and apprenticeships after 16 will help them and the national economy in the long term.

The move would bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe and with leading economies around the world.

Mr Pryce said: “Sadly at the moment in education it’s true to say that if at first you don’t succeed… you don’t succeed. In future, if young people don’t get at least five good GCSEs they will struggle to get a job, because there will be far fewer unskilled jobs.

“That means we cannot have so many young people dropping out of education at 16 and we would welcome such a move which would bring us into line with most of the rest of Europe and the other big economies.”

After reaching the age of 16, students would have the opportunity to go to college or take an apprenticeship, he added.

“It is EDUCATION leaving age we are talking about, not school leaving age. I suspect that most of the pupils who now drop out would prefer an apprenticeship or college programme to continuing in school, so we in FE would have to plan for a lot more students – probably about 20% more.

“It would be a challenge but it is always easier to teach someone who has made a positive choice to come to college.”

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