Thursday November 29, 2007 9:58 PM
Teenagers who refuse to stay on in education when the leaving age rises to 18 will be forced to attend weekend detention centres under new plans.
The punishment would involve sending teenagers to "attendance centres" for three hours on Saturdays in order to deprive them of their leisure time and restrict their liberty.
Headteachers, charities and youth groups condemned the plans, which were outlined as part of a Bill to raise the education leaving age.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he had "serious reservations" about the proposed punishments.
He said: "While the Government has said that no young person will be forced to stay at school, it has also indicated that it will make non-participation a criminal offence. This is wrong. Young people under 18 should not be criminalised for refusing to learn a skill.
"The law must not penalise young people who are disenfranchised or misinformed or there will be very little chance of ever getting them back into education or training."
Clare Tickell, chief executive of children's charity NCH, also criticised the sanctions regime.
She said: "Introducing penalties, should these opportunities not be taken up, will only risk further turning away the very people these measures aim to help."
The British Youth Council (BYC) also voiced concerns.
BYC spokesman Rocky Lorusso said: "Young people who are at risk of dropping out need support, not a criminal record. Research shows there is not enough support amongst young people for this policy and it is unlikely that young people will be motivated by plans they do not agree with."