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Government advice for teenagers: be like WAGs

By Richard Garner

Britain's much-maligned WAGs are probably best known for the expensive shopping expeditions they undertook while their partners plotted England's unsuccessful football World Cup campaign last year.

But today Wives and Girlfriends of England's football team are being highlighted for another cause: to try to persuade the nation's youth to stay on at school and get more qualifications.

The WAGs have been picked by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) – a multimillion- pound government quango responsible for financing post-16 education in schools and colleges – as appropriate role models for the drive to persuade more young people to stay in education. The reason, according to the LSC, is that they actually belie their image – bolstered by such TV series as Footballers' Wives – of being seen more often with a bottle of champagne than a book. Its research reveals that nine of the dozen best-known WAGs – selected according the number of mentions they have had in the national media – have achieved at least the minimum qualification considered essential by ministers to get on in life: five top grade A* to C grade GCSE passes or their vocational equivalents.

Michael Carrick's wife, Lisa Roughead, has a university degree and two others, Michaela Henderson-Thynne, the former girlfriend of Stewart Downing, and Gary Neville's wife, Emma Hadfield, are also studying for an undergraduate degree.

Coleen McLoughlin, fiancée of striker Wayne Rooney, has 10 GCSEs including an A* in performing arts. And three of the 12 have vocational qualifications equivalent to five upper-grade GCSE passes. Only "mega-WAG" Victoria Beckham failed to make the grade; another two of the WAGs' qualifications are not known.

The LSC study says that, rather than idealising the WAGs' glamorous lifestyles, youngsters should realise that most of them had the sense to gain a minimum set of qualifications. "While Victoria Beckham has succeeded with a handful of GCSEs, the odds of following in her footsteps are incredibly thin. The chances of being in a successful girl band or winning The X Factor are less than one in 200,000," the report explains.

Julia Dowd, director of learning at the LSC, added: "Many young people today believe that fame and fortune is possible without hard work. The reality is that leaving your future down to chance could leave you in a low-paid, dead-end job. So whatever it is you aspire to do, have a back up plan and gain the minimum set of qualifications – as so many of these young women have done."

As part of the campaign, the LSC issued a reminder that 16-year-olds in England whose parents earn less than £30,810 a year qualify for education maintenance allowances of up to £30 a week for staying on full-time at school or in college.

Ministers are anxious to increase the number of youngsters staying on after a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed only four other Western nations had a lower staying on rate than Britain.

The WAGs' school reports

Coleen McLoughlin

Partner of: Wayne Rooney

Qualifications: 10 GCSEs – including four A grades

Emma Hadfield

Partner of: Gary Neville

Qualifications: Studying for holistic therapy degree

Charlotte Meares

Partner of: Jermain Defoe

Qualifications: A-levels in psychology, performing arts, sociology

Melanie Slade

Partner of: Theo Walcott

Qualifications: A-levels in psychology, maths and biology

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