RPA and the September Guarantee

The age young people must stay in education, training and learning until is 18. Do you know your options?
group of teens

In 2015 the law changed, meaning all young people must continue in training or learning until their 18th birthday. You may hear this called 'raising the participation age' or ‘RPA’.

Many young people already choose to stay in school. But some take up other options. These include going to college, starting an apprenticeship or a traineeship, or combining learning with working and volunteering - find out more about Local Training Providers, who can support you to stay in learning

You can start work after sixteen, but you will also need to do training or learning that will lead to a real, valuable qualification.

Crucial: Oxfordshire County Council checks to make sure that all young people are in learning. Usually your school or college will tell us what you are studying, but you can also tell us here on this website.

Information and guidance on all your learning options will be provided at your school. There are often advice and guidance events at local colleges. You can also explore your options here on this website, or on the National Careers Service and other online resources.

What if...

I did badly (or am predicted low grades) in my GCSEs? Some young people find that their current school is not the best suited to them for their post-16 learning. But these students can always find a place at another school, a local college or a training provider - guaranteed. Start by asking your school for suggestions.

I want to apply for an apprenticeship while I'm still at school?   You cannot start an apprenticeship until you are 16. Some apprenticeship providers will not let you apply until you are over 16 or have left school, but others, like your local colleges, will be happy to take expressions of interest. When you get your apprenticeship, the National Apprenticeship Service will contact the local authority to say you are in training.

I have completed my second year of post-16 learning and I am not yet 18? For some young people, term ends before you are 18. We understand and this is not a problem.

I want to start my gap year straight after term ends, but I am not yet 18? Under RPA, you can start your gap year as soon as you have completed your level 3 learning whether or not you are 18. But gap year providers may have their own rules so always check with them that your age will not be a problem.

I'm in work without training? Young people under 18 can usually access fully funded training, and you and your employer should both take advantage of this. Your employer can contact Oxfordshire Apprenticeships or the National Apprentice Finder to find out about the flexible options available, including 100% work-based options.

My employer tells me I can't have a job because I am under 18? There are no penalties for employers who employ young people aged under 18, even if they are not in learning. Although it is expected that where possible the employer will offer an apprenticeship, suitable training or support to find these, there is no requirement to do so. Some workplaces may choose not to employ younger workers.

I'm worried about what will happen to me or my parents if I am not in learning? You will be contacted regularly by the Local Authority and encouraged to take up an offer of learning (such as a course or apprenticeship). There are no fines or penalties for you or your parents. This is simply about making sure that you are aware of the free learning available to 16-18s.

My school, college or other place of learning tells me I cannot continue in the 6th form? Schools, colleges and other places of learning are able to select who they take on post-16 courses. Where schools or colleges are unable to take on a student they should provide information about other local learning providers. You can also get this information from the Local Authority.

I know I want to leave school but don't know what I do want to do? We know it takes some young people longer to find the right option for them. If you don't know what you are doing post-16, Oxfordshire County Council Education, Employment and Training Team or another support service will contact you regularly to let you know about options. We will continue to contact you regularly until you are 19 (up to 24 for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities).

What happens to benefits if I drop out of learning before I am 18? Parents continue to receive child benefit/universal credit for as long at their child remains in approved education. If you are aged 16+ and leave approved education or training, payments will stop.

Crucial: If you are not in education, employment or training (NEET) you should let the Local Authority know right away so that you can get support. You can use this form.

Why stay in education?

All young people should have the same opportunity to gain skills and qualifications. Staying longer in education or training makes sure everyone gets the same chance to achieve in whatever you go on to do – whether it is a job or further study.

The government has been encouraging people to stay longer in education for many years, through providing advice and funding. This is because people who stay engaged with learning for longer go on to earn more and have fewer problems. Most people do stay in learning until they are 18 already, but those who don't are disadvantaged compared to other young people.

For most young people, who already stay in learning until age 18, this won't make a difference. But we're hoping that, for the few who were missing out on the free learning they are entitled to; it will make a big difference.

The September Guarantee

All young people should have a suitable offer of education or training in a school, college or work-based training for the September after they complete their GCSE year. You may hear this called the September Guarantee.

Who will give me an offer?

Your offer should be appropriate to your needs. It can be in a school, college or in work-based training. Most young people will have several different offers.

  • Local schools offer you the opportunity to continue into sixth form.
  • Further Education colleges offer a broad spread of courses and vocational (work-based) learning.
  • An apprenticeship supports you to start learning and earning right away

If none of these seem quite right you should talk to an adviser at your school right away. There are other options available, but these may need some time to arrange.

Crucial: Most people like to have their offer sorted out by the end of the spring terms, so they can concentrate on their GCSEs. If you don't have an offer sorted by then, though, it is not too late. You can always contact your local Further Education College for September starts right up to the beginning of term. Some courses may also be able to take late tarts. There are also training providers who can support you to start at any point in the year.

Find out more


Posted by Emma potter
Posted ago
Where can I get my 17 year old to resit her gcse maths exam in June? We live in banbury can I pay to do this privately. Thanks

GCSE Maths is offered by Bicester and Banbury College and there are specific retake options open at the Space School Banbury. please contact these providers directly to discuss options. There are also a great many private providers in Oxfordshire, along with home tuition and distance learning options, which may offer more flexibility around study hours and deadlines, but we are not able to make recommendations. It would be helpful to make your enquiries as soon as possible. GCSE exam entry deadlines for June 2016 are passed, so you may need to seek a late entry or wait until June 2017.

Posted by Jean Noonan
Posted ago
My son needs to re-take his maths and English GCSEs and lives in Oxford City. Is there any courses anywhere that begin in January 2017?

Hello Jean, Further Education Colleges such as City of Oxford College and Abingdon and Witney College offer January start programmes. If you son has not already achieved Maths and English at Grade C or above, any course at an FE College will always include working towards their English and Maths GCSEs alongside their other subjects. When these can be sat is dependent on exam registration deadlines and it may not, at this stage in the academic year, be possible to sit GCSEs in 2017. If this is the case, he will be able to sit them in 2018 instead. You can get further information directly from the colleges.

There are also many private colleges locally in Oxford, and online distance options for re-takes of GCSEs, which may offer different options, but we are not able to make any recommendations.

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