Raising leaving age in 1970s 'improved children's GCSEs'

1970s classroom Raising the school leaving age in 1972 saw long-term improvements

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Raising the school leaving age for teenagers in the 1970s was still having a positive effect for their children a generation later, according to a study.

With pupils in England facing the raising of the current leaving age to 18, researchers examined the long-term impact of the last increase, in 1972.

Researchers found the children of parents who had stayed a year longer in education had higher GCSE grades.

This was measured as an improvement worth one grade higher in two GCSEs.

The study, from academics at the universities of Bristol and Bath, looked at how raising the leaving age from 15 to 16 had a far-reaching impact.

Staying on

The decision to raise the leaving age had been planned in 1964, but it was not implemented until September 1972.

Staying on for another year saw more people getting O-level qualifications - and fewer leaving with no qualifications.

This was followed by an improvement in their children's achievement - with consistent improvements continuing from primary school tests through to exams at the age of 16.

"The children of more educated parents go on themselves to higher educational achievement," said lead author, Paul Gregg.


  • 1870: First compulsory school for younger children
  • 1880: Attendance officers enforce school for five- to 10-year-olds
  • 1899: Leaving age raised to 12
  • 1918: Full-time education compulsory up to 14
  • 1944: Education Act raises leaving age to 15
  • 1964: Raising of school leaving age to 16 announced, but not in place until 1972
  • 2013-15: Participation in education or training raised to 17 and then 18

"The results here suggest that as a result of attaining more education, parents with higher levels of schooling provide a better childhood experience and home environment and consequently their children do better in school," said Prof Gregg.

"The proposed further raising of the school leaving age to 18 by 2015 [that is full-time education or an apprenticeship] should lead to benefits not just for the generation affected but, also in the future, for their children."

The study, carried out by the University of Bristol's Centre for Market and Public Organisation and researchers at the University of Bath, tracked the results of almost 20,000 pupils.

When the leaving age was raised in 1972, it meant about a third of pupils, who would previously have left, stayed in school.

The next phased raising of the participation age is about to begin this year - although this will not necessarily mean staying in school.

From summer 2013, young people will be expected to stay until the age of 17 in full-time education or an apprenticeship or employment with training.

The following year this will be increased again, so that pupils will have to stay in education or training until the end of the academic year when they reach the age of 18.

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