2024 Spring Term

The know zone

  • The leading characters
    Assistant Headteacher Rich Atterton shines a spotlight on ASCL's remarkable 150-year history and says the story of the association is really the story of you, its members. More
  • Preserve and protect
    William Richardson explains how lockdown created a golden opportunity to recover, catalogue and permanently preserve ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • A look back through time
    Primary education has a rich and vibrant history, evolving over centuries to become the system we know today. Tiffnie Harris unveils the fascinating tale of how education for the youngest minds has transformed from its humble beginnings. More
  • When can I leave school?
    Sixth form education is still a relatively new concept in the context of the last 150 years of education. Kevin Gilmartin looks back at how our present sixth form sector has evolved. More
  • The evolution of business leadership
    Emma Harrison takes readers on a 150-year journey of school business leadership. More
  • Thanks and best wishes...
    From individual support and advice from our hotline and officers to the advice and guidance provided throughout the pandemic and beyond, here ASCL members share their memories and interactions with us and send their best wishes to the association. More
  • Embracing change
    Headteacher Tanya Douglas says she's extremely proud to be one of the longest serving members on ASCL Council - the engine room of the association's policymaking. More
  • Past Tense?
    Carl Smith shares a headmaster's log from 150 years ago and it may or may not surprise you that many of the challenges of the past remain to this day. More
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When can I leave school?

Sixth form education is still a relatively new concept in the context of the last 150 years of education. Kevin Gilmartin looks back at how our present sixth form sector has evolved.

Teachers of a certain age may recall the dread at having to teach the old fifth form bottom sets (Year 11) back in the 1970s and early 1980s. For many students, ’staying on’ until the age of 16 was considered a waste of time, a view often endorsed by their parents who may have left school themselves at the age of 14. 

Keeping those pupils engaged in school work as the warm spring and summer months came along was not an easy task. Many students voted with their feet and went off to work in local jobs or apprenticeships. If they weren’t one of the bright ones aiming for university, what was the point? 

The situation was made more confusing by the law, which allowed two different leaving arrangements: a pupil whose 16th birthday fell between September to January could leave school at Easter but a February to August birthday meant it was the end of May. Designing the annual planner/scheme of work for that year group was no easy task. 

When did the leaving age change? 

The raising of school leaving age (ROSLA) went from age 15 to 16 in 1972. These changes had a dramatic impact on secondary schools, and particularly those without sixth forms, who were obliged to provide pupils with a suitable curriculum for the additional year of their schooling. 

Historically, the minimum school leaving age had risen steadily, from age 10 in 1880, to 11 in 1893 and to 12 in 1899. In 1918 it was raised to 14, and again to 15 in 1947. The idea of raising the minimum leaving age to 16 had been discussed as early as 1944 in the Education Act. In the post-war period, many felt that more emphasis was needed on the unfulfilled promises of the act of 1944, in particular, the raising of the school leaving age to 16 and the creation of county colleges for mandatory part-time attendance up to the age of 18. 

In many counties, the 1972 ROSLA changes also led to the introduction of middle schools. Many pupils were kept at junior school for an additional year, while more radical changes led to some middle schools for pupils aged up to 13 opening in smaller secondary school buildings, with other schools accommodating students over 13. The number of middle schools peaked in 1982, with more than 1,400, but by 2019 this had fallen to approximately 100 (with probably about 20 or so left today). 

ROSLA pupils 

Pupils who stayed on but would have left by choice at age 15 were unsurprisingly referred to as ’ROSLA pupils’. For secondary schools without a middle school, accommodating the new fifth year students was a real challenge. 

The quickest solution was to provide prefabricated buildings (often referred to as ROSLA blocks). This solution proved popular due to their low cost and speed of construction. The ROSLA buildings were delivered in self-assembly packs and built within days. They were not intended to stand long term, although, inevitably, some are still in operation today. 

The present situation 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown implemented the Education and Skills Act 2008, which eventually came into force in 2013, initially requiring participation in education or training until the age of 17. This was raised to 18 in 2015. This raising of the participation age (RPA) is different from the school leaving age, which still remains at 16. For those not in education, employment or training, the term NEET was coined, and it is local authorities who are still officially responsible for tackling their local NEET issue. 

The future 

It seems highly unlikely that any government will change the RPA to 19, let alone lower it. Given this landscape, many have called into question why GCSEs are therefore still necessary at the age of 16. Hence recent interest in 14–19 and 16–19 baccalaureates as well as the Advanced British Standard (ABS). 

Given it has taken 150 years to get us to where we are now, it may be better not to hold one’s breath on any major changes any time soon. 

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist