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!
Table of Contents
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.