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

In A-Level, GCSE, General by Think Student Editor21 Comments

Every time the new academic year dawns, most students around the UK return to school or start off at sixth form. 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 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 generally 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. 

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. Alsomany 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 useful 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 useful 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 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, IB diplomasapprenticeships 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.  

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Stevens
9 months 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.

Ian
Ian
9 months 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
5 months 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
8 months 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
5 months ago

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

Anthony
Anthony
7 months 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
7 months 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
6 months 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
5 months 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

Lee
Lee
Reply to  Anthony
7 months 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!

Bernie
Bernie
Reply to  Anthony
7 months 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
5 months 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
7 months 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.

Kerry
Kerry
6 months 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 »

Dawn williamson
Dawn williamson
6 months 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

balls
6 months ago

true but true

Tanya
Tanya
4 months 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
3 months 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
15 days 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
4 days 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.

Tanya
Tanya
2 days 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.