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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 March, 2004, 16:14 GMT
Blair urges students to stay on
Tony Blair at conference
Mr Blair said it would need a change of culture in schools
Tony Blair says he wants all young people to stay in education or training until the age of 18 or 19 - effectively scrapping the school leaving age of 16.

He told delegates to Labour's spring conference in Manchester it would give all school-leavers the best possible chance of a good career.

He said all students should stay on through sixth form, or take up a modern apprenticeship or job-related training.

"In effect, we want to make irrelevant the school leaving age of 16," he said.

Develop talents

"Our goal is for every young person to succeed.

It would require a "new culture of personalised learning" in schools to develop students' talents, he said.

He laid out his vision of "every secondary school with the resource, skill and ambition to develop the talents of its students, whatever their starting point or aspiration".

"Not a culture of dropping out, but a culture of getting on."

The Prime Minister also gave a hint of Wednesday's budget from Chancellor Gordon Brown, saying the minimum wage was "next week to be extended to young people".

Curriculum change

Schools Standards Minister David Miliband told BBC News Online the government was not talking about compulsion.

Instead, the idea was to make the education system "inspiring and engaging".

He pointed to moves to broaden the schools curriculum - something tied in with former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson's review of the examinations system.

"Youngsters are now doing graphics and engineering, dance and drama - subjects which did not exist 10 years ago," said Mr Miliband.

There would also be learning in a wider range of environments, he said, explaining the government wanted more cooperation with the world of work.

More than 20% of 16-21-year-olds were already in modern apprenticeships, he added.

Grammar schools debate

The minister earlier faced a rough ride over the continuation of selective schools at a fringe meeting hosted by the Comprehensive Future group.

Pauleen Lane, deputy leader of Trafford Council, said local authorities could do everything possible and still face obstacles caused by the 11-plus exams.

"I don't think it's justified to put every child through an exam at the age of 11 and go through the trauma even if they pass, let alone if they fail," she said.

Labour legislated in 1998 to ban extensions of selection and allow local ballots to scrap selective schools.

But delegates and teachers at the meeting complained the ballots were a "stitch up". They complained only one vote had been held and that had led to a grammar school in Ripon, Yorkshire surviving.

Comprehensive questions

Mr Miliband defended the government's policy, saying decisions should be taken locally and not by ministers in Whitehall.

He would personally vote against keeping a grammar school if he was a parent in an area where a ballot was held, he said.

The biggest recruiting sergeant for comprehensive education would be for it to be really comprehensive by being shaped around each child's educational needs, he said.

That would mean campaigners could point to a "genuinely golden age", he argued.

He said the government needed to learn from the experience of five years under the ballots system - although it is thought ministers are not actively looking at the issue.

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