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Information and advice for young people in Suffolk

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FAQs: Raising the Participation Age

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Everything you need to know about your options after leaving school

The Raising of the Participation Age (RPA) means that every young person is now required to stay in some form of learning until they are 18. 

We've put together some frequently asked questions about this new requirement, so that you can be confident in understanding all your options and how this affects you.

1. What is Raising the Participation Age (RPA)?

RPA is a government measure meaning that as of 2015 all young people now have to participate in education or training until their 18th birthday. RPA provides the opportunity for all young people to access the provision and support that they will need to learn after the age of 16.

When you leave Year 11, your options are:

  1. Remain in full time education (such as school, college or home education)
  2. Go onto work-based learning (such as an apprenticeship)
  3. Be in full-time work alongside part-time learning leading to an accredited qualification
  4. Take up volunteering for 20 hours or more and do this alongside part-time learning which leads to an accredited qualification
  5. Be self-employed, combining this with part-time learning leading to an accredited qualification.

2. Is RPA the same as raising the school leaving age?

No, RPA is not the same as raising the school leaving age. The school leaving age remains at 16. The focus of RPA is on remaining in some form of learning, whether this is full time education, work-based learning, or work or volunteering alongside an accredited qualification.

3. Why has RPA been introduced?

It was introduced to increase the opportunity for every student to improve their life prospects and become economically active individuals. Evidence shows that achieving qualifications at 16 and 17 can help to boost a student’s prospects for life – for instance, young people with 2 or more A-levels earn around 14% more than those without.

4. Who is responsible for ensuring a student continues in learning or training?

You, the student are responsible for ensuring you remain in some form of learning until you are 18. You will be expected to make your own decisions about how you wish to do this and which route you want to take. Your school will support you in making these decisions, and you can also receive information, advice and guidance from youth support workers. Find details of your local support service on our drop-in centre page.

5. Where can I find out more about the RPA measure?

You can find out more about RPA from:

  1. Your school, college or training provider
  2. From a youth support worker or transition coach
  3. GOV.UK website - education and learning section

6. Where can I find out about the education and training opportunities available across Suffolk?

Schools have a legal responsibility provide independent, impartial information, advice and guidance to Year 8 - 13, so they should be able to tell you all about your training and education options.

There's also loads of information already available on The Source - check out our learning section.

The National Careers Service may also be able to provide advice and guidance. They can be contacted on 0800 100 900 or you can view their website.

And for apprenticeship opportunities, look at the National Apprenticeship Service website.

7. What counts as 'working' under the RPA measure?

To be classed as working full-time, you will need to have had the job for 8 weeks or more, and work at least 20 hours a week. If your employment hours vary, employment of 40 or more hours over a 2 week period can be considered as meeting the RPA requirement for full-time work.

Part-time work (e.g. evening or weekend work) isn't affected by the RPA requirement.

Full-time self employment will be classed in the same way as full-time employment.

8. What counts as 'volunteering' under the RPA measure?

Volunteering is defined as working other than for financial reward. In terms of the number of hours you volunteer, the same criteria applies as for full-time work. Therefore a full-time volunteer needs to have volunteered for 8 weeks or more, and for 20 hours or more per week. If your volunteering hours vary, volunteering for 40 hours or more a week over a 2 week period is considered as meeting the RPA requirement for volunteering full-time.

If you have a volunteering placement, some form of written agreement should exist between the you and the provider you are volunteering for.

9. What are study programmes?

Study programmes were introduced in September 2013, and require all schools, colleges and work-based learning providers to offer 16-19 year olds a customised learning programme.

Study programmes have the following requirements:

  1. They must provide the opportunity for the student to progress to a higher level.
  2. They must include a qualification that is of sufficient size and difficulty to stretch the student, and are linked to opportunities to progress in training, employment or higher education.
  3. Students must work towards a maths and English GCSE (at least a grade C, or a grade 4 under the new GCSE structure. Read more about changes to GCSEs.
  4. They must have work experience related to the subject area of the study programme, which develops employability skills and creates potential employment options.
  5. They must include other activities unrelated to qualifications that develop your skills, attitudes and confidence.

The balance between these activities and requirements will vary depending on your needs. You will be able to discuss your needs with the learning provider. Find out more about study programmes.

10. What are traineeships?

Traineeships prepare young people for an apprenticeship or work by offering a high quality work placement, work preparation training, and English and maths. 

Traineeships are available to 16-24 year olds, and last no longer than 6 months. The work placement will last between 5-6 months. Traineeships are unpaid, and provide you with the skills and experience to progress into further training or full-time work. Find out more on our about traineeships page.

You can search for traineeships on our vacancies page, or search and apply through our yojo app.

11. What counts as full-time and part-time learning?

Attending full-time education at a school (including an academy or free school) by itself is defined as meeting the RPA measure. 

For other types of further education (sixth-form college, further education college, or independent college) full-time learning is 540 planned hours minimum, and part-time is 280 planned hours minimum. 

12. How does staying in learning or training until I'm 18 affect my benefits?

There have been no changes to the benefits system as a result of RPA. Certain young people who are aged 16 or over and in some form of learning or training, may be able to claim the following benefits as normal (subject to meeting the criteria):

  1. Income Support (single parents or carers)
  2. Child Benefit if you are responsible for a child
  3. Employment and Support Allowance, but only if your course has been adapted to take account of a disability.
  4. Working Tax Credit if you are a lone parent or have a disability and are an apprentice.
  5. Child Tax Credit if you are a lone parent and are an apprentice

For help and advice with benefits information, you can speak to a youth support worker.

13. How will my parent's benefits be affected by RPA?

For your parents to continue to receive benefits (Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit) after you have turned 16, you will need to be registered for a course.

If there is a gap between registering and starting a course then this is acceptable, and your parents will continue to receive their usual benefits. Your parents will normally need to tell HMRC by the 31st August once you have turned 16, that you meet the RPA requirements and your parent's benefits will still be paid.

If you are an apprentice and therefore earning a wage, your parents Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit will usually stop. For more information, visit www.gov.uk

14. What happens if I haven't been in education or training because of illness or having a baby?

Illness or having a baby is an acceptable reason for not being in education or learning, as long as you resume your course as soon as you can.

If you are a parent you are still expected to participate in full-time education or training (following a reasonable period of maternity leave). You might be able to receive 'Care to Learn' funding depending on your circumstances. For more information on the Care to Learn scheme please phone 0800 121 8989, or visit the GOV UK Care to Learn page.

15. If I have half-term and summer breaks at school or college, do I meet the RPA requirements?

As long as you are in full-time education and training then you will meet the RPA requirements. Full-time is defined as attending school or another education or training provider for a minimum for 540 planned hours a year. This can include work experience and other study not related to a qualification.

Half term and summer breaks are regarded as a normal part of the academic year at most educational establishments so you will be meeting the RPA requirement even if you aren't starting the learning programme until September. However, you may wish to consider learning, training or employment with training until the course starts.

16. If I'm being home educated, am I meeting the RPA requirement?

The amount and content of your education is at the discretion of your home educator, so there are no other conditions required as long as the Local Authority is satisfied that you are receiving an acceptable level of education - this will be confirmed by contacting your parent(s) or guardian. If your education is deemed to be acceptable, you will be meeting the RPA requirements.

17. If I'm working full-time and studying part-time through online/distance learning, am I meeting the RPA requirement?

This is acceptable and meets the RPA requirements as long as your learning results in a qualification and adds up to a total of 280 hours per year.

18. If I'm doing an Apprenticeship, Traineeship or Access to Apprenticeship programme, am I meeting the RPA requirement?

Yes. If you are on one of these schemes or programmes, you are meeting the RPA requirements.

19. If I'm working full-time and receiving on the job training, am I meeting the RPA requirement?

You will only be meeting the RPA requirements if your training is accredited (i.e. you are receiving a qualification for it), and adds up to a total of 280 planned hours a year.

If you are doing an apprenticeship then you will automatically be meeting the RPA requirements.

20. If I'm a full-time carer, how does RPA relate to me?

If you are listed on the Local Authority's register of carers, and/or are receiving carers allowance, then you will be expected to attend part-time education or training of at least 280 planned hours a year.

It is up to the Local Authorities to decide if a carer is full-time or part-time. For more help and advice, check out our Young Carers page.

21. What happens if I'm in a job without any training?

It is up to you to make sure you're receiving at least 280 planned hours a year of education or accredited training. This will usually happen by negotiating with your employer, ideally with the qualifications being worked towards having relevance to your job.

If your training impacts on your hours of work, then you will need to agree suitable arrangements with the employer. Alternatively, your employer may be willing to convert the job to an apprenticeship. 

Local Authorities will also be able to support you in meeting the RPA requirements if you are in work. This can include working with employers to minimise the number of young people in jobs without training, as well as letting you know about education and training provision that has the flexibility to meet your needs, as well as your employer's. 

22. What happens if I want to take a gap year?

You should not take a gap year if you are 16 or 17. You will be expected to be doing something that meets the RPA requirements - either full-time study with a school, college or training provider, full-time work or volunteering with part-time education or training, or an apprenticeship.

23. What funding is available for me to help with education or training costs (e.g. travel costs, study materials)?

There are bursary funds available to help you with the cost of transport, meals, books, equipment and other costs. Young people who are in care, care leavers, in receipt of income support or universal credit, and disabled young people receiving employment support allowance and disability living allowance or personal independence payments will be eligible for a bursary of at least £1,200. Find out more by contacting the further education college or sixth form/sixth form college.

Find out about help with travel costs for 16-19 year olds in Suffolk on the Suffolk on Board website.

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