Ok, its a mouthful I know - but stick with me here.

The DfE have launched a consultation, in view of raising the participation age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015, where they are asking what should constitute 'full time'. The fact that Care to Learn will remain available up to age 20 (see previous blog post) means that there is potential for much more flexibility in further education provision for young parents. That includes maternity leave, home learning, part time study, specialist provision, the options are endless..... UNLESS the DfE go ahead with their plan to 'require' that all young people are in education FULL TIME until they are 18 - effectively to the end of yr 13.  

While this may be suitable for some young parents, and there should be appropriate support available to allow, or even encourage, this, for others who may have housing issues, regular appointments with support services, family issues or simply do not feel comfortable leaving their baby yet, it can be the last thing they need. Prymface's recent survey found that all young parents value education and do want to return at some point but flexibility and choice are key and a young parent will always prioritise the needs of their child. The government needs to start trusting young parents to make these choices, rather than working against them.

To put it clearly, this is the offer that research suggests young parents 'require' to get the most out of education:

1. When a student becomes pregnant, the education provider should offer support and advice around education issues.

2. The education provider should allow the student to continue in education while pregnant but be flexible around sick leave and appointments, just as an employer should.

3. The education provider should be able to provide accurate information about the range of educational options after the birth.

4. The education provider should be able to offer a maternity leave that is suitable to that young person of up to 12 months if necessary, as employers do, but with clear routes back into education. Young parents who are the main carer for their child should not be forced to return to education too soon.

5. The education provider should be able to offer part time study or reduced hours to achieve any level of qualification. This may include specialist provision, taking a one year course over two years, taking a reduced number of A Levels, offering support with distance learning to complete courses. Young parents who are the main carer for their child should not be forced to study/work full time.

6. Support should be available throughout a young parent's education with education providers allowing flexibility in attendance and deadlines, for example, when a child is sick, where there are housing issues, childcare problems or appointments with support services such as the Family Nurse Partnerships.

7. Part time students who are parents should still be eligible for the Education Bursary to help with travel and equipment.

8. The provision of childcare should also be considered in terms of its location and quality. Ideally parents would be able to study close the the childcare provision to offer both reassurance and practicality. Support should be offered to find suitable childcare and the education provider should also allow the parent and child time to get used to the childcare provision.

9. Discrimination and bullying towards young parents by education providers, staff and other students should be monitored and understood.

10. Young parents should be involved in any decisions around raising the participation age and consulted with on any changes that affect them.

Remember, young parents should not be punished for having a child. They have not broken the law; the state needs to respect the family life of young parents just as the state is required to respect the family life of older parents. (Human Rights Act, 1998). The DfE consultation around what constitutes as 'full time' should therefore take account of the value of caring for children, just as it is suggesting accounting for 'working not for reward'. If the importance of raising children is rejected then it potentially ignores the priorities of young parents and risks excluding them even further.

The closing date for this consultation is 13th April 2012