What Happens if You Don’t Stay in Education Until You’re 18?

In A-Level, GCSE, General by Think Student Editor49 Comments

Every time the new academic year dawns, most students around the UK return to school or start off at sixth form college. On the other hand, a large number of young students decide that they’ve had enough of school and choose to opt out of education, even before they turn 18.

This can leave others wondering: at what age is it considered legal to leave education? And are there any consequences for not staying in education for this long? Is it okay to give up education for a job?

In short, although it is against the law to quit all forms of education* before you turn 18, there are really no legal consequences for breaking this rule. The official school leaving age — which varies depending on where you are in the UK — is 16, but it is necessary to remain in some form of education until you are 18. You cannot even get a full-time job before this age; however, part-time jobs are still an open option.

(*) Including full-time education, apprenticeships, traineeships, or a hybrids of work and education. As is stated later in this article, we really recommend checking out the official government resource on this.

While you should have gotten a summarised version of the answer in the paragraph above, I would highly recommend giving the whole article a read — especially if the topic directly concerns you!

At what age can you legally leave education?

A common question for students to ask is when they can leave education without breaking the law.

Depending on where you are in the UK, the official school leaving age can vary. If you are in England, you can legally leave school on the last Friday of June — only if you will be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. However, you will still have to do one of the following until you turn 18:

  • Stay in full-time education (A-Levels, for example)
  • Start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • Spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering alongside part-time education.

As I mentioned, this is different for other places in the UK. For example, in Wales, there are no rules stating anything beyond it is fine to leave school on the last Friday of June. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different rules too.

To find out more about the different legal school leaving ages, I would recommend this government page. It will inform you of all the relevant information for leaving school.

What happens if you do not stay in education until the school leaving age?

It is not too uncommon for students to leave education before they turn 18, regardless of the law.

If you are under 18 and not in any sort of full-time education or undertaking an alternative from the list above, you are technically not doing the legal thing. You will probably start to assume that there will be consequences — after all, you are breaking the law!

Believe it or not, you will not be fined for it in any way. Although it is very much considered an offense, the government does not want to punish young people for not finding — or not wanting to pursue — further education.

Despite this seemingly relaxed situation, the government highly encourages parents and students to abide by this law. Choosing to stay in education instead of dropping out early can be helpful in the long run. Also, many students may regret not pursuing education beyond the basics, so it is always a good idea to stick to the law and stay in education.

There are courses that are available for a whole range of interests, so you don’t have to go down the academic path of A-Levels – you could do a vocational BTEC subject instead. If you are interested in finding out about BTECs, and how valued they are by organisations like universities, I would recommend that you have a read of this Think Student article.

It is imperative that you consider all of your educational options before you decide to quit school. The benefits of staying are huge, and so it is important that you make an informed choice, considering the wide range of options that are available to you.

What are the benefits of staying in education?

The importance of staying in school or college has been stressed on for multiple reasons.

People who stay in education are far likelier to get employed than those who quit school or college. Additionally, they usually receive better job offers and have much more earning potential. So, on a personal level, staying in education at least until the age of 18 is hugely beneficial.

Furthermore, a higher level of education can be crucial for many jobs that improve the economy. If young students leave education early on, it could have a negative impact on the economy and job market.

You should also consider that there are limitations in terms of job opportunities before you turn 18, and so staying in education (or an alternative like an apprenticeship) may be the best (and most productive) option that is open to you.

Can you leave education before 18 in pursuit of a job?

Whether it is to become financially stable or just for a side-hustle, it is common amongst students to want to get a job early on in life. Some teenagers wonder if it is okay to leave school or college with the intention of working on a job full-time.

In reality, it is not legal to get a full-time job before a student hits the school leaving age. However, this does not mean young people cannot work on a part-time job if they really want to. There are many opportunities available for this; take a look at this Think Student article if you are interested in jobs that can even be done at the young age of 14.

It is important to note that such jobs will be limited in number and usually have minimal pay. There will also usually be some tight restrictions, such as limited working hours and days. You may want to thoroughly look into your options before making any decisions.

What are your options after GCSEs?

Sixth form college can be a student’s nightmare; many young people often find that they do not want to carry on and take A-Levels. As a result, they may not stay in education after GCSEs.

This can unintentionally have a major impact on their profession and future and that is why it can be useful to explore the different available options before making any hasty decisions.

Many students do not realise that they have a range of diverse options after GCSEs (besides studying A-Levels). The list includes BTECs, T-Levels, apprenticeships and traineeships — and it is not limited to this. Working or volunteering (while studying part-time) is also a possible option.

Make sure that you have all the information available to you before you make any decisions about your future. Pursuing one of the options that we have discussed above after school is free, and is also a great use of the time you have at that age – remember that you won’t be able to work full time!

It is also important that you discuss your options with someone else before you make a big decision like this, and so you should certainly consider speaking to the careers adviser at your school, and taking advantage of any career events that are made available to you.

To find out more about your further education options check out this Think Student article.

4.2 9 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
49 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stevens
2 years ago

This is good advice but for some students with learning disabilities the thought of more education and college are filled with dread. Hardly any schools now provide careers advice ( I know because I work in education) .
If a 16 yr old feels work is better suited to them and will give them a sense of independence and those valuable life skills they need then the government should be doing more to encourage this and enable employers to take them on.

Karen
Karen
Reply to  Stevens
10 months ago

yes, my daughter is 17 and has ASD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. She has just completed her first year of college but unless she passes her maths GSCE (she is waiting on the results of her second retake) she has been told she can’t stay on as the next level of her course needs maths level 4 as an entry requirement. I have asked if they will make an exception as she is expected to finish the first level with a distinction but they have said no, she must meet all requirements. If she can’t stay at college what is she… Read more »

LISA OUTRAM
LISA OUTRAM
Reply to  Stevens
8 months ago

i do agree with you my son didn’t get 4 in English and Math’s he has dyslexia he finds getting to a 4 will be to hard for him there’s no advise on what he can do as he would like a job or learn on the job as a plumber but all they keep saying is you need 4s in English and Math’s what hope does my son have, this government are making it worse for those with education needs, if you had a builder round or a plumber of a certain age i bet they don’t have 4s… Read more »

Ian
Ian
2 years ago

My daughter is 17 and in college because she has to, she would much prefer to have a full time job and it’s about time this government sees that in a time when this country has hundreds of thousands of job vacancies that the young people of this country could fill these rather than going to college because it is the law until they are 18

Shelley
Shelley
Reply to  Ian
2 years ago

Hi. My son is 17 and started his 1st year of a levels last September. He has found it very difficult due to his ASD so I spoke with the national careers service and they told me that it is only a guideline that they stay in education til they are 18. Nobody can stop them from leaving to pursue work and there will be no legal consequences.
He is now out of college and doing some part time work. Hope this helps

Nolan Collins
Nolan Collins
2 years ago

do you know if there are any exceptions to this rule? My daughter is 17 and was offered a FT job at £18k per year only to have it rescinded because of this stupid law. She is in college doing a fluff btec she doesn’t really want to do because she has to.

Shelley
Shelley
Reply to  Nolan Collins
2 years ago

Contact the national careers service. I have spoken with them and my sons college and no one can stop them from leaving education.

helen
helen
Reply to  Shelley
1 year ago

you’re right but the law says no one, under 18 can work full time.

Owen
Owen
Reply to  helen
1 year ago

They can’t work full time being 40+ hours a week but a 16-18 year old can work up to 40 hours a week and the only other law if they can’t work night shifts

Anthony
Anthony
2 years ago

My daughter has started ‘A’ levels at college however doesn’t and won’t go. She doesn’t want to discuss anything with me (Dad,single parent). Any ideas???

Angela
Angela
Reply to  Anthony
2 years ago

I have the exact same problem with my daughter. 16 just started an apprenticeship. Toxic office environment. No help. Been told not to ask for help from others. Cries nearly every day. Had 2 meltdowns since July when she started and had to have 3 weeks signed off with depression. They still treat her badly after that! She really cannot do sixth form or college as that environment is no good for her either. Can only send strength. I’m finding holding down my own job hard coping with this every day.

Dawn
Dawn
Reply to  Angela
2 years ago

I sympathise with you as I am in similar situation. It’s not just their lives it’s everyone around them. My granddaughter is making herself I’ll with worry and tears every night

Shelley
Shelley
Reply to  Angela
2 years ago

Hi. My son is 17 and started his 1st year of a levels last September. He has found it very difficult due to his ASD so I spoke with the national careers service and they told me that it is only a guideline that they stay in education til they are 18. Nobody can stop them from leaving to pursue work and there will be no legal consequences.
He is now out of college and doing some part time work. Hope this helps

Susan freeman
Susan freeman
Reply to  Angela
1 year ago

I can identify with you there. My 17 year old has been taken off the programme she was doing in College, she suffers from panic attacks and anxiety, she is still waiting to be referred to a CAMHS doctor.
she went to college a couple of times but she found she couldn’t cope with the college life, now she is in limbo not doing anything, I’m a single mum and worried where it will all end up .

Tracy
Tracy
Reply to  Susan freeman
8 months ago

Hi do you get any financial help to keep your daughter as not in college

Nadine
Nadine
Reply to  Angela
1 year ago

my daughter has suffered with severe depression since lockdown. Actually managed to pass some GCSE’s, started college but also got a job in McDonald’s! She never goes to college, we argue every morning, causing major anxiety for me (also single parent) she really has no enthusiasm,
but goes to work early and comes home smiling !! How can that be wrong???? So glad I am not alone in this, so grateful to you all

Lee
Lee
Reply to  Anthony
2 years ago

In the same place (Dad, single parent)! I was blissfully unaware of her unhappiness until last week when she finally confided in me! Not sure if it will help you but she recently started at McDonalds and she absolutely loves it. Not necessarily the best job in the world but it can (and probably will lead to better opportunities) has prospects and has boosted her confidence no end. She is now thinking about quitting A levels and doing something vocational at college instead. Maybe see if your daughter would like to get a part time job? Just a thought!

Nadine
Nadine
Reply to  Lee
1 year ago

So happy you said that, I have just written a very similar post! My daughter suffered hugely with depression with lockdown, real struggle to keep her in education. she won’t get out of bed for college, but turns up at McDonald’s early for shift, comes home buzzing and talking non stop!! Massive smiles, how can that be wrong??? Thank you so much for sharing your story, very much appreciated x

Bernie
Bernie
Reply to  Anthony
2 years ago

If she won’t talk to you there’s not much you can do. Does she want to work? If so help her to get a part time job. Try civil service at entry level (AO grade)…. they have loads of good paying part time/Flexi time jobs. Tell her you will support her financially if she needs. If she doesn’t want to go to school then she doesn’t go. What are they gonna do? Kick her out? She’s not going anyway. Best of luck tho.

Shelley
Shelley
Reply to  Anthony
2 years ago

Hi. My son is 17 and started his 1st year of a levels last September. He has found it very difficult due to his ASD so I spoke with the national careers service and they told me that it is only a guideline that they stay in education til they are 18. Nobody can stop them from leaving to pursue work and there will be no legal consequences.
He is now out of college and doing some part time work. Hope this helps

Julie Rogers
Julie Rogers
2 years ago

My daughter is half way through her second year at college doing a beauty course and has-been told to get a work placement. But she isn’t confident and doesn’t want to, so now she doesn’t want to go to college as they are pushing her and pushing her to get a placement. She has gone off the idea of being a beautician. Surely these things happen. Can she not just leave and go and get a part time job? She is suffering from anxiety as it is.

Justine
Justine
Reply to  Julie Rogers
1 year ago

Hi – my daughter was encouraged to look for a beauty placement when she first started her level 2 beautician course, she refused and said she won’t join a salon until she is fully trained and confident – 3 years later not only does she have levels 2 & 3 under her belt, she also has a level 4 diploma in beauty (which was done at college but equivalent to a Uni degree), she had 3 job interviews in 1 week, agreed her salary with the employer she chose to go with and now is as happy as can be!… Read more »

Kerry
Kerry
2 years ago

My son is in his second year at college. Doing btec.. his original teacher is on maternity leave, has 2 new teachers, 1 teacher is fine now he’s used to him, 2nd teacher taught his brother and calls him by his brothers name. 40 students in the class and is literally not getting the grade for last assignment (had distinctions in other teachers class and all last year) didn’t even get a pass despite doing 92 pages in detail. He has been off I’ll for 3 weeks and due to covid has had to go have 3 pcr tests due… Read more »

Alan
Alan
Reply to  Kerry
8 months ago

My son is 16 and just left school,he has a soccer scholarship offer but couldn’t get to do A level course due to only getting grade 3 in maths,he’s been offered a level 3 national diploma in sport alongside a retake of Maths GCSE but is desperate to do A levels
Any advice

Dawn williamson
Dawn williamson
2 years ago

My granddaughter who lives with us is doing an apprenticeship. She loves the people and the job but the course work she has to do after work is stressing her out and bringing on her anorexia which she has suffered from in the past. Can she stop doing the apprenticeship and still work where she is. She is 17 next month. I fear for her mental health. She hated school although did well in her exams

Tanya
Tanya
2 years ago

My son is 16 and has been in collage since September last year . He’s hardly attending any lessons this year and does not want to go. He never like school towards the end either . He feels like collage is not what he wants . He’s confused about what he wants but definitely does not want collage . I don’t know what else I can do to help him .

Tracey Beck
Tracey Beck
2 years ago

Can a parent be fined for a student missing a day from 6th form for a family bereavement. I’ve always been lead to believe it’s not a legal requirement for them to be in school as it is from the age of 4-16?

Richard
Richard
1 year ago

This is out of date now. The gov has scrapped 1000s of courses & now forcing students onto A levels, T Levels or apprenticeships.

T levels sound lkke a disaster about to happen, there’s next to no syllabus info anywhere.

My child was due to start aviation engineering in Sept place applied for & accepted. Yesterday we get a letter saying he’s now been put on a transition T level course for 12 months in engineering & manufacturing.

Needless to say he’s not doing it & now it’s get an apprenticeship or break the law.

Tories strike again

unknown user
unknown user
1 year ago

i am a student in year 10, 15 years old. i have had severe mental issues brought upon me because of school, not only the stress of the education itself but those around me, whether that’s students or staff members. i’m constantly getting chased up about not attending certain lessons and the staff only do things to make their own life easier. i wish this age would be lowered, even just by a year so my case could be dropped. i don’t wish to suffer anymore.

Worried mother
Worried mother
Reply to  unknown user
1 year ago

I honestly feel for you, i have a 15 year old son and he’s also suffering badly with anxiety and depression due to other issues that have happened, he’s seeing a counsellor and having EMDR therapy for PTSD but the school are just adding pressure – even when the professionals have stepped in and asked the school to give him time, he’s trying to make the effort but feels the staff are only concerned with ‘keeping up appearances’. He just wants to leave and get his mental health sorted then think about his education in the future. As his mother… Read more »

Mandy
Mandy
Reply to  Worried mother
1 year ago

There’s a Facebook group called Not Fine in School. Joining it might give you some helpful advice. Good luck!

anonymous
anonymous
Reply to  unknown user
11 months ago

I get what you’re saying. I’m 16 and have been having severe depression since i was about 12. My school hasn’t done a lot to help and my grades suffered due to me not attending school for 9 months. Which meant I wasn’t given any offers for college since I missed gcse mocks and they couldn’t predict my grades. Still have no clue what i’m supposed to do but applying to part time jobs is so far the only option i have.

Tanya
Tanya
1 year ago

My daughter has ASD and has been home educated for 8 years due to being forced out of the education system. When she turned 16 she decided she no longer wanted anything to do with ‘education’. She has signed up with business mentors through out local city council who work with 16-29 year old who are NEET (not in education, employment or training). They are mentoring her in business startup. But by law this is not seen as education because it is not college, so we will lose her child benefit and her EHCP will be stopped.

Florence
Florence
1 year ago

I am 17 years old, with 6 months left of my apprenticeship. When i finish in January 2023, i will still have 5 months left until i am 18. Do i have to be in some sort of education until then? Would seem pointless to get another apprenticeship as they are normally 18-24 months and as soon as i turn 18 i will not want to be on an apprentice wage? What can i do for them odd 5 months after i leave?

Melanie
Melanie
1 year ago

My son is 17 he found a full time job where he is earning more than I am! He now doesn’t want to go back to college as he never liked it. He wants to stay where he is as his boss is going to be putting him through his digger ticket etc. He’s really happy there. What would happen if he just didn’t go back to college and pursued this job he’s already in?

Lisa
Lisa
Reply to  Melanie
1 year ago

I would like to know the answer to this as well, my son is 16 and has been working for the last 4 weeks, done his cscs qualification and wants continue working and getting all his machine qualifications in the future, he doesn’t want to go to college but not sure if we’ll be contacted from the education department or fined if he continues in full time employment?

Claire
Claire
Reply to  Melanie
1 year ago

My son Is the same! Started a level 3 course (2 year course) in ICT (can do anything computer based) He has been working part time (more since college finished in June) and he loves working he is more confident socially (is usually very quiet) he is Like me in the sense he’s a doer!) he’s completed his first year but doesn’t want to go back (not made any friends and is very quiet) he is about to do his forklift license through work once he turns 17 at end in august and I think doing this will open up… Read more »

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

My Daughter has done 1 year on a course and has been let down but the collage as she was accepted for the next level but because she could not get a placement at a vets she cannot now go on the course, there is no alternative and she is now looking for an apprenticeship, however, she is not 18 until december and now not in collage or working, she is worried she will be fined?

Laura
Laura
1 year ago

As a teacher in a college there are some very interesting points raised here but some advise for those with lots of questions. You can not be prosecuted or chased if a child is out of education between 16-18 however they should ideally not be at risk of NEET (not in education, employment or traineeship). Provided they are doing one of these it should be ok. Obviously if they are not in education they will now be expected to contribute to society. Additionally those receiving child benefits will lose them if they do not continue education and for single households… Read more »

Diane
Diane
Reply to  Laura
1 year ago

This is excellent advice. I’m a single parent and whilst full time education might not be for everyone there are lots of options within ‘education’ worth considering. And it’s not just their education, there’s a large social aspect to consider in these formative years. Leaving education can exacerbate isolation from your peers.On the single parent aspect you’ve got to be aware that any maintenance arrangement from the non resident parent would no longer be enforceable AND (as pointed out above) child benefit and any other benefits relating to your child will end at the end of August after they turn… Read more »

Betsy Eales
Betsy Eales
1 year ago

My daughter is 16 married and has a baby 08 weeks old. she has been told that she has to complete her education either by going to college until she’s 18 or getting an apprenticeship. Obviously being a young wife and mother this is impossible. Does she legally had to go. Her husband is 18 and now works full time.

Last edited 1 year ago by Betsy Eales
Jay B
Jay B
1 year ago

My 17 year old has been going through a lot of anxiety and has been having panic attacks almost every other day for sometime now.
He is refusing to go to school once it reopens and has also said he is not sitting for his A-levels as he isn’t confident. He also finds no interest in the subjects that he has picked up.
Also, we are able to tell him anything as it triggers his anxiety and then he has his attacks. Absolutely lost a parents

Me
Me
1 year ago

So iv a 16 year old who has run away cause he’s mum is abusive to him he’s living with me and my daughter his girlfriend he’s from England bit now in Wales the school here are refusing to take him and he’s not enrolled in a school at all now he’s ment to leave in June and it’s Dec now so he’s still to do his gcses but as I said school here in Wales is saying no .don’t know what I’m ment to do as his old school is 200 mile away and he’s scared to go home.… Read more »

anonymous
anonymous
11 months ago

I’m 16 currently and I applied to a sixth form and got rejected because of my grades. And I currently can’t apply anywhere else since the sixth form was at my secondary school (which is a 20 minute walk) and the next closest place is 30 minutes in a car. I have a big fear of public transport due to getting lost in London at a young age and even if I could apply to the next closest college the bus fees are £300 for the year. I have no option but to not attend college and I think that… Read more »

Steve Dann
Steve Dann
11 months ago

You can leave education at 16 and work – but the work must involve training. Parents are no longer responsible for attendance and can not be fined, there is no law relating to the raising of the participation age and talking of legalities is misleading. If a young person is out of education, employment or training, they are classed as NEET and the Local Authority has a duty to contact them and support them. In reality they will usually be satisfied if a young person gets a job, and they will not chase it up. Under 18s will not, however,… Read more »

Karen
Karen
10 months ago

My daughter is not 18 until December, she has just completed a year at college but we don’t yet know if she will be able to stay on for the next level of her course as she failed her maths GCSE which a requirement for the next level. She has retaken her maths exam and will not know for a few weeks if she has passed. If she doesn’t pass her gcse and can’t stay on at college what can she do if she has to stay in education for another 5 months. she has ASD and dyslexia and is… Read more »

Sean
Sean
7 months ago

My daughter is 16 now, quit school before she officially left not taking any exams. Got into college 4/5 weeks ago and decided its not for her. She has never liked being told/asked to do things since she turned 11,Now me and her mum are since separated and it’s only got worse. Worried for her future bit she wont listen

Ellie
Ellie
7 months ago

Im a 15yo and im really struggling with my first year of GCSEs. I’ve been thinking about dropping out for a while and I’m pretty sure this is a good option for me but this website doesn’t have any positive outcomes for dropping out. We are struggling financially at home and I want to help out as much as I can. When I turn 17 I’d like to join the infantry in the army. Someones whose dropped out at 15, is this a good idea?

Sarah Cunningham
Sarah Cunningham
3 months ago

what the hell..My 16 year old son has just spent nearly a year sectioned and diagnosed with bi polar..he is now 3 months before GCSEs having to start a hospital school unit and as you can imagine he has lost a year to mental health and after this 3 months told he legally has to attend college or a course..his plan to join the army has ended because of this diagnosis and now they all saying he has to do a course when he is still recovering from the affects of his sudden illness..This will send him ill again