What age can you leave school?

From the moment you enter secondary school, you might question how much longer you have left in education. Sit tight because the government has added a couple of years to that end date, but don't worry, this can be a good thing. Read on as we explain what age you can leave school and what that really means for you.

A group of young people are sitting. They are thinking about when they can leave school. This is a wide-angle image.

Can you leave school at 16?

No, you can’t leave school at 16 if you were born after September 1997 (so basically everyone). 

Basically, according to the powers that be, students in the school year below those born in 1997 can no longer leave school when they turn 16 years old. So what age can you leave school? Well, you’ll now have to stay in training or education until you’re 18. This is to make sure more young people have qualifications so you’ll have a wider range of options for work (not so bad really).

Do I really have to stay in actual school until I’m 18?

It’s not 100% accurate to say that the school leaving age was raised to 18 by the legislation. The age of participation has been raised. That means it isn’t compulsory education. Essentially, you can leave school on the last Friday in June, if you’ll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays, but you have to continue being taught either in education or training in September. So if you can’t wait to get away from the school desk and into the workplace, there are still ways you can do this.

Here are your options:

  • Carry on with your education, do a BTEC, A levels, IB – whichever you fancy really – at school, college, or at home
  • Start an apprenticeship. If you’re asking, what’s an apprenticeship? You can find out here
  • Combine part time studying and training. This means you can get a job, start a business, or volunteer for 20 hours per week (or more) on top of getting a qualification.

We know. That’s a lot to try and figure out during the summer holidays. It’s totally okay if you have no clue what to do. As part of the changes, schools are now required to provide students with impartial guidance. So don’t be afraid to ask your teachers how you can access this, or even for their advice. You can also have a chat with the National Careers Service, call them on: 0800 100900.

What if I can’t afford to stay in school or training?

Since the legislation raised the school/education leaving age, it means that you kind of have to. Thankfully, there are ways to make it happen. For example, the 16-19 bursary fund provides up to £1,200 for essentials, such as travel to school, lunch, and any equipment you might need. This is mainly for people in (or who have been in) care, those claiming income support, or people with disabilities. However, even if you don’t fit into one of these groups, you may still be eligible for a bursary. Talk to your school, college or training provider about it.

Plus, if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you may be able to claim Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). You can learn more about Education Maintenance Allowance and the 16–19 bursary fund in this article.

What if I just don’t go to school?

Well, there’s no easy way to put this so we’ll give it to you straight; you’d be breaking the law if you leave at the age of 16. The governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales aren’t introducing fines yet, but if lots of young people don’t attend school, they plan to start. It’s worth flagging that they each have slightly different rules when it comes to school leaving age, which you can find out about here.  So we’d recommend just sticking it out for an extra couple of years. In the meantime, you can start planning all the things you’re gonna do once you graduate.

Also, this article on what to do after GCSE exams might help if you’re struggling to work out what’s best for you. Alternatively, why not get some opinions from the friendly community on our discussion boards?

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 25-Mar-2022