What is the School Leaving Age?

N. Madison
N. Madison

The school leaving age is the age at which a person can legally drop out of school. This term is often used in jurisdictions that have compulsory education. In such jurisdictions, minors are usually required to attend school starting at a particular age and ending at another. An individual may continue to attend school after he has reached the school leaving age, however. For example, in many jurisdictions, compulsory education ends at 16, but students who want to earn a high school diploma may remain enrolled until they reach 17, 18, or 19 years of age.

Those who struggle with school may leave as soon as they reach the local age limit in order to pursue a trade.
Those who struggle with school may leave as soon as they reach the local age limit in order to pursue a trade.

Many countries have compulsory education, which means minors are required to attend school or participate in some other type of formal education. Many also have an age by which minors are supposed to be enrolled in school. For example, some jurisdictions may require minors to be enrolled in school by age six while others may set the age of enrollment at age eight. In many jurisdictions, a parent can be prosecuted if his child is not enrolled in an approved form of education by the maximum enrollment age.

In jurisdictions that have compulsory education, there is usually a school leaving age as well. This is the minimum age a student must be to legally drop out of school and be free from compulsory education requirements. This doesn’t mean a student has to leave school once he reaches the school leaving age, however. In many cases, a student will have to attend for at least a couple of years after reaching this threshold if he wants to earn a high school diploma.

Many jurisdictions set the school leaving age with eligibility for employment in mind. In such jurisdictions, the school leaving age is set to minimize the gap between the age at which a student can leave school and the age at which he is employable. This isn’t true in all places, however, and in some jurisdictions, there may be a significant gap between the school leaving age and the legal employment age. There are also many jurisdictions in which a minor can secure employment long before he can legally drop out of school.

In jurisdictions in which unemployment is a problem, talk of raising the school leaving age often develops. This is due to the fact that more dropouts typically translate into an increased need for jobs. Delaying the entry of minors into the workforce by raising the age at which students can leave school may help jurisdictions deal with this problem temporarily.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


So what happens if a person leaves school before the minimum school leaving age? Is there a legal penalty, do they force the kid to go to school?

I have a friend that is just one year below the dropout age but I think there is a good chance he will not come back to school. He has been gone for a week already. I really don't know what is going on with him but I don't want him to get into more trouble than he's already in.


I had a friend who was extremely bright but absolutely hated school. It just wasn't in his blood. He knew all the information, but somehow sitting in a class and answering to a teacher was torture for him.

He got into a lot of trouble and caused a lot of disruptions for other students. Everyone could see that it was becoming a problem, even his friends. The legal school leaving age here is 17, so when he turned that at the beginning of our junior year he dropped out. He immediately got his GED and went and found a job.

That was 10 years ago and he went on to college and now has a really solid job. People think of high school dropouts as doomed, and lets be real, a lot of them are. But there are success stories too. Just because a person doesn't get on in school doesn't mean that can't have a good life.

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