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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Staying-on: Is it a good idea?

The Government is planning a new award to boost the esteem of non-academic achievements by England's teenagers.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said the new award would be presented in the form of leaving certificates at graduation-style ceremonies in schools.

About 7% of teenagers are not in employment, education or training after the age of 16, when they are no longer obliged to be in full-time education.

Is staying on a good idea? Will a certificate encourage 16 years olds to continue their education? What would you suggest?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Of course it is a good idea in principle to encourage young people to further their education. But! the government are apparently ignoring the present teacher shortage crisis. How do they expect secondary schools that, in the main also teach 6th form, to cope with the extra demand?
Philip S Hall, England, UK

Why not let young people leave school at 15 with a voucher for another 3 years education?

Gill, UK
Perhaps we should accept that education is wasted on the young as so many only want to get a job or get married. Why not let young people leave school at 15 with a voucher for another 3 years education? Many would return to full-time education when they finally realise that they do have ambition for a better life.
Gill, UK

I think Estelle Morris is a closet American. Here they swamp children with "graduation" ceremonies, even from 6th grade to 7th grade! Some even "graduate" from kindergarten, for goodness' sake. This improves nothing, and belittles the idea of giving an award. It makes the children not care much about achievements such as getting a degree, because there's yet another graduation involved.
Marion, UK in USA

Graduation ceremonies over here make me realise how pitiful my last day of school was in the UK

Amanda Bradley, Seattle, Washington
As a Brit living in the USA for 24 years, graduation ceremonies over here make me realise how pitiful my last day of school was in the UK in 1964. Leaving school and becoming an adult is a huge rite of passage which should be marked in some way. My last day of school was just like all the rest. No recognition, no certificate, nothing. These are small things but they are meaningful. I'd give anything to be able to reunite with my old school pals like they do here in the US every five or ten years. This is definitely one area where America has got the UK beat. School days, for most people, are the happiest days of your life and, sadly, I have nothing to commemorate that.
Amanda Bradley, Seattle, Washington

I have just finished my A-levels and am so relieved that I have been able to do so this year. Looking at the year below they seem, with this new AS system, to have far more work and far less time to pursue interests than we have had. Post-GCSE is more than academics and this seems to have been lost. The scrapping of GCSE's and a new A-level system will be great, as long as those at the top of education remember that there is more to education than a classroom, and a graduation ceremony is not going to make people stay.
Elliot, Warwickshire, UK

The Government should put their thinking caps back on

Carol, UK

I personally think that it's a pointless idea and feel as a student myself that a certificate would not encourage myself or many others to continue their education. I feel this isn't a good way to encourage learning and the Government should put their thinking caps back on.
Carol, UK

You already do a certificate when you leave school - it's called a "GCSE" certificate. Unless, of course, you didn't pass any GCSE's. What exactly is the point of another certificate? To ensure that those people who didn't take or pass any GCSE's don't feel "left out"?

We've already had the "turn all higher education establishments into universities" idea, to ensure that nobody who went to a polytechnic or a college of higher education was looked down on by people who went to a University. Now we'll have the "fake certificate" idea, to ensure that people with 1 GCSE don't feel inferior to people with 7 or 8. Reminds me of Reggie Perrin and the "non competitive tennis".
Simon Moore, UK

I see nothing wrong with recognising an achievement in a formal way and recording that achievement. I fail to see any necessary connection with a downgrading of first degrees. However, I would ask the question "what is this measure intended to achieve?". If, as it appears it is intended to encourage people to stay in school after age 16, I would then ask "What is it that staying in school after age 16 is intended to achieve?" If the UK is genuinely committed to the idea of life-long learning then surely the number of people who remain in school after age 16 is of no real concern? This does of course assume that life-long learning is a reality which has appropriate resources and support mechanisms devoted to it.
Juan, UK

A certificate will do nothing in affecting children's choices. My own experience was this: 1. I got all the grades by submitting to the system. 2. I was blamed by employers for not being what they wanted, precisely because I had submitted to a system which over-educates and under-trains. 3. I learned less at school and University than working in humble jobs, due to the "control freakery" of the educational tsars, head teachers and classroom clones. 4. I have earned considerably less than expected, because the education system saw me as a statistic rather than a human being.

Until the system becomes responsive, diverse, non-judgemental and not a poodle of the fantasies of those not in the front line, then the voters (i.e. the children) will vote with their feet. And if you think it will take less than a generation to reverse that trend, then you're living in cloud cuckoo land.
Rhys Jaggar, England

Surely the point is that you can't do very much without qualifications these days, so encouraging teenagers to stay on at school can only be a good thing. Whether a "graduation" ceremony will help is debatable, but what amazes me is the elitist attitude that so many people still seem to have towards further education, as exemplified by the comments here about the quality of qualifications gained. Some university degrees, for example, have NEVER been very difficult to get, just as some always have and still are. But the schools system has been geared to providing University (and principally Oxbridge) entrants for far too long to the detriment of the majority of children, and no matter how they disguise it it's obvious that many people want to retain that system because that's the only way they can see of protecting the perceived quality of a university degree.

Perhaps if we considered a radical reform of Universities to include two year instead of three year degree courses (an AWFUL lot of time is wasted so that lecturers can do their "research" then not only would University be seen as less of a social "jolly" but it would be far cheaper in terms of tuition fees/loans for the students. However, I doubt whether such ideas will cut much ice with the closet elitists.
Steve, UK

What a great example of treating the symptoms, rather than the problem! Is the real reason that some leave school at 16 that they aren't academically motivated? Or is it financial constraints? Will those that don't want to be there in the slightest really care about another piece of paper that they're just going to throw away?

This is pointless and patronising. It is almost as if Estelle Morris has given up before she's started. Kids need the best schooling possible to enable them to make choices later in life. This means spending real money on good teachers and equipment, supporting a stable and worthwhile curriculum. Arguments about comprehensives etc. are just a red herring. Good schools produce good students. It's that simple. I suspect Mr. Blair is looking to make his first Cabinet adjustment.
Tom, UK

Walking out of school on the last day is a great anti-climax considering this is such a great milestone event in your life. Having recently attended a US graduation for the first time (I'm from the UK) I felt I had missed out and it is a good idea to be rewarded in this way after all the work. It brings closure to the that phase of learning and gives a sense of achievement to the students. I don't believe that it denigrates university graduations but rather builds a sense of pride, community and bonding with the school.
Nigel, USA

A quick fix which costs little and does not address the real issues

Dominic, London, UK
I was educated and attended graduation at both high school and university. While both ceremonies were in recognition of achieving either a diploma or a degree it was not the reason you stayed on. I fail to see how the ceremony can be an incentive to stay in education. It is typical of New Labour - a quick fix which costs little and does not address the real issues. Perhaps offering a better education and improved job prospects would be a better idea. All style over substance once again.
Dominic, London, UK

It is an excellent idea for non-academic achievement to be valued, whether it is contributions to the community, voluntary work, practical skills or whatever. Academic qualifications, however devalued some may think them to be, are equally important So three rousing cheers as we come full circle for the umpteenth time: bring back the Certificate in Secondary Education and the General Certificate of Education? And a graduation party afterwards.... well, any teenager worth their salt will sort that out without official intervention
Fran Beaton, UK

It seems very doubtful that any student who is currently unmotivated at school will stay on an extra year or two in order to wear a gown and mortarboard for a few hours. Perhaps if our media glamorised some worthwhile careers with the energy they currently employ to glamorise criminal activity, we might have students who see a point in persevering with their studies.
Stephen James, UK

Can I have a certificate to show I achieved the magnificent feat of getting up and making it into work this morning? What a load of dross. Typical New Labour - worrying about how to make something look nice without addressing the fundamental issues. Some people are less academic and should be encouraged to pursue other options. What about an apprenticeship or, heaven forbid, a job?
John B, UK

The emperor still seems to be wearing no clothes! There is already the possibility of recognising the achievements of such non-academic pupils through the presentation of the National Record of Achievement. I am aware that many schools present such awards, in formal settings and ceremonies, to those returning to the Sixth Form, irrespective of their level of achievement at GCSE level. I fail to see how a different piece of paper will make any real difference to the staying on rates. The external validation of the courses these young people embark on should be sufficient award in itself.
R Fitzpatrick, Northern Ireland

While the US high school graduation ceremonies are over the top, the actual certificate is of real value. A teen who doesn't get the grades to graduate, in some states, cannot get a driver's licence, and won't find a job, as most employers require proof of education, which isn't a bad idea.

I have first hand knowledge of trying to prove one's level of education here and a high school transcript is the standard starting point. It lists all grades, for all courses, and provides the most complete source of basic education information one could hope for - rather than carrying around exam certificates and having to contact schools in order to obtain "report card" duplicates. While it may seem like another dumb idea, it really does have merit and, if kids cannot drive or get a job until they have one, seems to me to be the best motivational tool at the moment.
Di Stewart, USA

I don't think they should get a certificate at 16. If they pass GCSEs they get certificates anyway. The US system has got ridiculous. Now you graduate from each grade, not just high school and college. In fact, my second cousin's son over here just had a party to celebrate graduation from kindergarten! Now THAT is silly! That said, he was probably prouder of his certificate than most older kids.
Rachel, Brit in USA

I don't think these certificates would be a good idea at all. If the Government want kids to stay on to further and higher education they could do a lot worse than expanding the entrance criteria to include those who don't come from a wealthy background and aren't put off by the prospect of paying back loans until they are in their thirties. The comments submitted to this page from the US only highlight the poor quality of this proposal, to underline the fact that these graduation ceremonies have very little or no meaning or value. In fact, would it not detract from the honour of actually graduating and becoming an actual graduate and create a "been there, done that" mentality?

In my experience, those that continued their education past school were always going to anyway, and those that didn't likewise. Mind you, a certificate congratulating me for being rude, absent and cheeky to my ever more powerless teachers would have been nice.
Al Prior, UK

It was my impression from the OECD education report that the UK was top when it came to the proportion of young people getting a university degree. We don't need to encourage people to do this. What we need to do is make sure that people aged 16 who have no desire to stay in education can at least read and write properly. This is where the UK fails. The Governmentt should concentrate on making sure everyone has 5 decent GCSE's - not take its eye of the ball with this foolish proposal.
Stephen Gore, UK

What a terrific idea. Just one question. Why doesn't it work in the US?
Jon Livesey, USA

Oh dear, another example of the Government dumbing-down education. Firstly they made vocational qualifications count for the same as A-Levels when applying to University; now they are trying to bribe more pupils into doing A-Levels. This will only serve to decrease the standard of further education even more as more underachievers are pumped into the 6th form. Leave A-Levels to those who are capable of doing them! They've already been ruined once with the pathetic AS Level system for which I am a guinea-pig.
Alex, UK

I'm not sure what "fake" graduations you're all talking about. When I finished high school, I received a diploma at a graduation ceremony. It was a huge milestone and most of my peers went on to college. I have since graduated with a four-year degree and received another diploma. What is so strange about that?
Erik Larson, Oregon, USA

Self-esteem is a very big thing; confidence in your abilities is almost as important as knowledge. It's a well-established business practice to "ceremonialise" achievements; it motivates. "I graduated from high school" obviously sounds more like an achievement than "I stayed on until I was 16". I worked far harder for my O'Levels and A'Levels than I did for either of my degrees, A'Levels are viewed as nothing more than a stepping stone to degrees in the UK, they have no perceived merit in themselves.

Some of the most successful, talented people I know do not have degrees, and their self-confidence is diminished because they don't have a "graduation" behind them, they feel under-educated. Why are so many people here negative, destructive and bitter? Most of the views expressed against this idea have no substance, no reasonable argument - just cynicism for the sake of it.
Leigh, USA (UK orig)

I stayed on, but then, thirty-five years ago, it was secondary and grammar school culture to encourage those who wished to continue to study for better and higher grades to stay on. However, a lot of subjects offered did not necessarily equip oneself for the eventuality of having to work without further academia. In a lot of ways "sixth form colleges" should co-ordinate themselves better with technical centres to offer courses which really make the up and coming generations suitable for employment.
Hazel, UK

Is this a subtle change in Government strategy, from "education, education, education" to "certificates, certificates, certificates"? Just what problem does Estelle Morris believe this "initiative" will address?
Chris Shephard, England

Presenting an award of no value or merit, other than a placebo to boost confidence, is questionable. Diluting the further education system with youngsters not wholly committed to achieve is absurd. What ever happened to apprentices, and learning a good solid trade? Give teenagers who want to leave school another choice.
Wayne McDonough, UK

It's just another step towards becoming Americanised

Oliver, United Kingdom
It's just another step towards becoming Americanised. It also dilutes the occasion of the graduation ceremonies for those who go on to deserve the qualifications they work hard to obtain.
Oliver, United Kingdom

More gimmicks. What has happened to Britain? It seems every time a problem pops up a quick-fix gimmick is proposed. How about better careers advice in schools, with visits to workplaces and presentations etc? Silly certification ceremonies do not impress teenagers.
Michael Gahan, Ireland

I think there is something to be said for giving people a sense of achievement and a pat on the back.
Wendy, UK

Higher Education has been expanded so that first degrees are worth no more than HNDs.

Dr Duncan Campbell, UK
This is just another example of how governments over the last decade have failed the Further Education sector. Higher Education has been expanded so that first degrees are worth no more than HNDs. Now the government wants to tinker with Further Education in schools. If they really wanted to do something to help education in this country, they would expand the FE sector with its vocational and practical courses, and the medium level academic courses, with teaching staff who are more suited to those courses than the everyday teachers in secondary schools.
Dr Duncan Campbell, UK

I like the US-style: leave at 16 and you get nothing, leave at 18 and you are awarded a high school diploma. Now that's encouragement.
Steven Lockton, UK

More and more gimmicks are being used to encourage children to stay on at school. This is just another one to put alongside the Friday afternoon video or the good behaviour vouchers and Mars bars. Behind all of this are the parents, many of whom either acted up or "poked" school when they were younger or parents for whom school represents nothing but a glorified baby sitter. People such as these have so devalued the importance of school and provide so little support, whether physically or morally to the institution of school that it is little wonder children want to get out as quickly as possible. They have no idea how important good education is and the parents don't appreciate it either. Indeed many children are brought up in families where both parents were never at school or have never had a job and so the benefits are not apparent.
Ian Mc, Scotland

How about something that might actually have an effect?

E. Green, England
This is simply another attempt by the Government to appear to be doing something about education without actually making real progress. Raising teachers' salaries would be a sensible move, but instead they have decided on copying the more pointless parts of the American system, with yellow buses and now graduation ceremonies. How about something that might actually have an effect?
E. Green, England

Why fiddle around with leaving certificates? Why not just compel all teenagers to stay in school or a government approved work and training programme until the age of 18? This is just another government gimmick. Anything to avoid having to actually spend some money tackling the problem.
Tom Archer, UK

I seriously hope that today's kids are not the type that only stay on at school because they get a sheet of A4 paper saying well done on it.
Fraser, Aberdeen, UK

I have experienced both the British end of school anti-climax when receiving my "O" and "A" levels in the mail. Subsequently, I have experienced the celebration of success with my BSc and Masters in the US. The graduation ceremony is a major milestone to celebrate and reflect on achievement. This celebration would provide recognition and boost to a student's confidence that can show them there is value in staying in school.
Allan, USA

Leave schools alone unless you have a GOOD idea

Garry, England
Students should be encouraged to defer their education until they have developed a clear idea of what they are really interested in doing. Our universities and colleges already have sufficient poorly motivated students.
Peter B, UK

I totally agree that this is another proof of wasting of time and money which should be spent on IMPROVING education. It proves how misunderstood youths nowadays are. Do politicians really believe that this piece of paper will encourage teenagers? No, exactly, the opposite will occur.
Sandra, London, UK

I know a lot of friends from America and completing "High School" is one of the "rites" of growing up. I just can't see it working this side of the pond because secondary education is rarely the end of learning here.
Charles Brown, Aberdeen, Scotland

Jonathan Lunt has raised the most important point here - at that age it is not cool to be clever. The group these measures are aimed at care more about what their peers think than about their future. Give them some self-esteem and build self-confidence and they wont feel that they need to be constantly validated by their peers, then they would have a chance of making the right choice for themselves and not submit to pressure from anyone - friends, parents or society.
Steve Fitzhugh, UK

American schools have had these faux graduation ceremonies for a very long time with no obvious positive effect on the education of their pupils. By further debasing the value of real, university degrees, this scheme is only likely to discourage tertiary education. To encourage pupils to stay in school, the aim should be to provide interesting, relevant and fulfilling coursework, and clear demonstrations of the value of continued education.
Michael W, USA

The graduation ceremony is a major milestone to celebrate and reflect on achievement

The UK should start looking at relaxing the whole teaching business. I suggest having a look at the Swedish system. This system starts off much slower but with very intensive education at university level, unlike the UK system which starts very intensive but finishes with what a some what average university education where the emphasis is at having a good time rather than a good degree.
Eric, Sweden

I can't believe some of the nonsense this government comes up with. Have they met any teenagers recently? Do they seriously believe that the "offer" of dressing up in silly costumes and having their proud parents along to a dull ceremony at school will be seen as appealing? Such fluff aside, where is the proof that encouraging ever more kids to stay on after 16 is a good thing? Some people simply don't like formal education, and will have happier and more rewarding lives outside school. Sixth form should be for students who have academic interests, and shouldn't be dumbed down to suit young people who'd rather be almost anywhere else anyway.

The "one size fits all" approach to education has probably done more damage to educational standards and young people's lives in this country than almost anything else. Let the kids who want to leave school at 16 do so; and plough the money that would be spent on useless ceremonies, and a lot more money besides, into adult education, so that those people who feel they missed out at school have a second educational chance when they're old enough to appreciate it.
Ricky Wright, UK

The major problem in the UK with the education system is not one of maturity. Today's youth are maturing at a far earlier rate and they are realising fairly early on in their teenage years, that the options that school presents them with are limited to those that will benefit the system in which those at the top gain while the worker ants at the bottom receive little in terms of inward fulfilment. Education, above all things, should teach young people about life. About the value of getting to know yourself, pursuing your dreams and exploring the many thousands of options you have to live your years.

Young people are aware of this, and due to little or no other option being given to them, they despair at the education system. Certificates aren't going to do a damn thing
Matt, UK

I seriously hope that today's kids are not the type that only stay on at school because they get a sheet of A4 paper saying well done on it

Fraser, Aberdeen, UK
I would say that staying on at 16 years is not a good idea, why because people are individual and develop at different stages. I left school at 16 and returned to education in my mid 20s. People mature and learn at different stages in life. I would recommend that people leave school and attempt to take on the real world, then if they decide to, return to education. I for one was able to exploit the ability to study as a mature student, and hopefully give my life experiences to the younger end of the university students. I feel that parents can be very forceful with their children and expect too much. Hence the children rebel and can ruin their options because of what is expected of them. You only get out what you put in, so do not make the decision to leave or stay lightly.
Kevin Blackburn, UK

Estelle Morris has been in the job a week now so she was due a silly idea, I just didn't think it would be this silly. Schools and teachers need some stability. Leave schools alone unless you have a GOOD idea. One week in the job and she has already shown to be devoid of ideas and incompetent. Watch out teachers, I would start to look for jobs outside teaching now.
Garry, England

No it most likely will not. I personally never turned up to two graduations. Wearing stupid gowns and even more stupid hats will just give educational institutions or schools another excuse to make more money out of academic success and parents pride. The award itself will also probably be looked down upon by certain institutions.
Scott Baldry, England

American style graduation ceremonies? Have you folks paid attention to the state of public education here in the US? You would be better served finding an alternative to the plan in the article.
David Spiro, USA

Doug S, UK

What next... the prom?

Rory McKnight,UK
This proposal obviously hasn't been thought out very well, as the people who wish to leave school at 16 will do so anyway. We should look to a better employment based training system where industry works hand in hand with the education system to enable students to apply the theories they learn to real life situations. A fair wage should also be given, stopping firms using trainees as cheap labour.
Dave, UK

Spin, spin, spin. For God's sake, somebody DO something!
Graham, UK

I have recently left the school at the end of my GCSE. There are enough exams and bits of paper you have to get. Try letting the techers teach and then may be we get some people finishing A levels with A levels that actually mean something
Philip, Isle of Man

I can't think of anything worse than adopting American high school education standards. This is an entirely superficial measure. What next... the prom?
Rory McKnight, UK

"Staying on" is not a universally good idea. Some people are suited to it, others aren't. Why do we have to have some ridiculous idea of 'equality in everything'? Everyone should get GCSEs, everyone should get A-Levels, free degree with a box of cereal... No. Not everyone is equal. If children want to stay on, then they should have every opportunity to do so, and they should have every reward for putting in the effort. But pushing people who might be less able into further education simply dilutes and debases the achievement of those who really try.
Chris N, England

I can see the use of proposals that went along with this statement for children to be allowed out of school at an earlier age to gain vocational qualification, but what use would a piece of paper with no apparent significance behind it be? As you get older, people look less at your qualifications and more at experience anyway!
Kat, UK

Five-year-old kids love certificates, 17 year olds love money!
Alan Reid, UK

Don't make the same mistake we made over here. The purpose of schools is to educate and prepare students for entry into the job market. Focusing on esteem can make students feel good about themselves, at least until they leave school and find they are unprepared.
Brad, USA

What a waste of money! This sort of window dressing will not help to keep people in school - and the investment should be going into teachers, books, etc, anyway, not on robes and meaningless certificates.
Selina, UK

It would enable us to celebrate the success of the many people who traditionally fail to be recognised by schools

Paul Steven, Scotland
Why is there such a demand on teenagers to study, study, study until 21? Surely it's best to gain experience in conjunction with text book learning. Personally I left school at 16 and worked for seven years before going to college and then to university. Admittedly that's a bit extreme, but at least a few years out will surely make the students more eager to succeed.
Darren, UK

I don't think much of this idea, and when I saw the schools' minister on TV this morning he didn't seem convinced the idea was any good. It just seems like they (NL) have no new ideas on this issue.
Steve, UK

I think the real question here is will this certificate be of any value? It is fine handing out certificates, but if they are of little value to an employer, then there seems little point in them being awarded beyond it showing some form of non-vocational achievement. I personally feel that more should be done to give vocational qualifications that will assist in actually getting on a training scheme or better yet a job. As someone who left school at 16, but later returned to education to get a degree, I believe any teenager who does not stay on when they are capable of doing so, needs to seriously reconsider.

Simply staying on at school for the sake of it is not a good idea since. Students may not be making the right decisions if they think further education is their only option. There is more to life than simply studying. Those who have completed their compulsory education should be encouraged to look at other options, such as working or simply spending time finding out what they really want to do with their lives.
Dan Marino, UK

What a waste of money!

Selina, UK
From my experience, most people who want to leave school at 16 couldn't give a hoot about a certificate. In fact, the suggestion would probably reduce them to tears of laughter. The key issue to address in this country is why it's cool to be a drop out. In any comprehensive, the most popular children will probably the smart under-achievers. Make it cool to be a high achiever and most of our education problems will be fixed.
Jonathan Lunt, UK

This new award and ceremony would enable us to celebrate the success of the many people who traditionally fail to be recognised by schools. It would help us to move away from people "skulking off" at the end of 4th year, turning it into a positive event, which could reap positive results. The USA has been using something similar to this very successfully for an extremely long time, let's view this as one of the more innovative strands of new education policy, and all get behind making it a success!
Paul Steven, Scotland

Obviously staying on is a good idea, but I don't see how a meaningless piece of paper is going to encourage this one little bit.
Phil, UK

Oh dear, we have a new "idea" this week. I wonder what it will be next week. The only consistency is that we seem to want to follow the Americans in everything that is done, does that mean that we will end up spending more on prisons than education???
Leslie Williams, UK

What an absolutely pointless idea!
Mark B, UK

It's bizarre! A degree has been debased to the point where it is, in reality, now an A' level. Why "graduate" with an O' level? It's just a total mockery of education
P M, Science Department in Britain's Biggest University, UK

"Staying at the same place 5 days a week gets boring" or similar, just mentioned on BBC Radio One News. It's called work, we have to do it once we leave school, and we get less holidays and more stress. Any move that prepares teens for the real world has got to be good, granted, but will an extra certificate help? Or would it be better to try and make school a bit more like work to prepare those same teens for the life that lies ahead?
Huw, UK

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | Education
New certificate for school leavers
27 Jan 01 | Mike Baker
Beating the 'British disease'
24 Jan 01 | Education
Blunkett pushes learning for work
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