School-leaving age to rise in drive to boost skills
Plans for 50,000 apprenticeships and new trainees in next four years
The age at which children can legally leave school will be raised from 16, as part of the new strategy to boost education and skills levels in the economy.
Increasing the age limit is the focus of a review involving the departments of education and skills, children and youth affairs and jobs, enterprise and innovation.
The review is part of the implementation of the National Skills Strategy 2025, which sets out a current skills profile, provides a vision and objectives for future requirements, and plots a road map for how these can be achieved.
It includes ambitious plans for 50,000 apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities by 2020 to meet the diverse requirements of employers and the economy.
The new minimum school-leaving age is likely to be 17, the age at which many students who do not do Transition Year sit the Leaving Certificate.
Keeping students in school longer enhances their chances of pursuing further education and training, while there is a direct link between drop out and poorer life prospects in areas such as employment, income and health.
Although the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in school completion rates, almost one in 10 leave before the Leaving Cert., mainly between fifth and sixth year, when they are aged 17-18.
About 91pc of teens now do the Leaving Cert, compared with about 82pc 10 years ago. Teenagers in disadvantaged areas, and boys, are more likely to drop out early and, while retention rates in these groups have also improved, they remain below the national average.
Launching the strategy, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the ability to attract and fill new jobs was dependent on having a well-educated, well-skilled and adaptable work force, and the aim was to provide an education and training system that was flexible enough to respond to a rapidly changing environment and that could provide the mix of skills needed over the next ten years, and beyond.
While many of the promised education and training opportunities will offer new options to school-leavers, the strategy also focuses on the need for upskilling those already in employment.
Tánaiste Joan Burton said as the economy grew and evolved upskilling would be important for everyone in employment, regardless of their occupation or current skill levels.
A new National Skills Council will oversee research and prioritisation of skills needs and Regional Skills Fora are being set up to support increased employer engagement with local education/training providers.
Other actions set out in the strategy include a commitment to review guidance services and a pledge that all Transition Year, Leaving Cert. Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Cert. Applied (LCA) students and full-time students in further education and training and higher education participate in work placements.