Why it’s worth raising school leaving age


12:16 pm - November 7th 2007

by Mike Ion    


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I struggle to understand why anyone on the Left of British politics could oppose Gordon Brown’s moves, mentioned in the Queen’s speech yesterday, to raise the education leaving age to 18. Let me repeat that, I said raise the education leaving age to 18, I did not say raise the school leaving age to 18.

A study in Canada cited by Alan Johnson when Education Secretary found that the introduction of tighter provincial restrictions on leaving school between 1920 and 1990 had helped in raising both average attainment and average incomes. The study found that students compelled to attend an extra year of school experienced an average increase in annual income of about 12%. It also found that compulsory schooling is closely associated with significant benefits in terms of other socio-economic outcome measures ranging from bi-lingual abilities, employment and poverty status.

It concluded that the personal costs of dropping out of full time education aged 16 were high. The study estimated that the earnings foregone as a result of leaving school early ranged from about one to two times the average dropout’s lifetime peak annual wage or three to six times the earnings forgone by staying in school.

What is not in doubt is that the longer a young person stays in education the greater the chance that he/she will acquire additional skills and significantly more opportunities in life as a whole. It has been shown many times that those who have stayed on in education longer often find it easier to find work and that they are much more likely to find that work satisfying. Similarly, the level of education among the population can have a positive effect on the economy as a whole as they can be more efficient workers.

As the Ontario study has shown, the impact of extra years of education on earnings and economic productivity is also disproportionately heavy at the lower end – that is, two more years at school for a 16 year old will make a much greater percentage difference to their later economic worth than two years of graduate work for a 22 year old.

The raising of what should really be called the “education leaving age” would, in my view, be a positive move that would help to promote greater equality. More importantly parents who left school young are more likely to have children who leave school early. Forcing all children to stay in school longer could break this cycle of disadvantage. Increasing the education leaving age is, I believe, crucial to the long-term investment in the talents and abilities of our nation.

For example it is worth noting that in many countries a very large majority of young people voluntarily stay in education beyond the end of compulsory schooling (e.g. France, Germany and Japan). If these countries can already bear the extra cost without economic collapse, it should be possible for nations like our own to cope as well. Raising the education leaving age to 18 is a progressive, bold and socially just policy – we should be pleased that it will be introduced by a Labour government.

—————–
This is a guest post. Mike Ion was Labour’s PPC for Shrewsbury in 2005.
Mike Ion’s weblog is at http://mike-ion.blogspot.com. He also blogs for Comment is free.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Mike Ion was Labour PPC for Shrewsbury in 2005. He blogs at mike-ion.blogspot.com and for Comment is free.
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Reader comments


Has anyone on the left of British politics opposed this?

Well, Mike, I wouldn’t oppose it as such, but I do think it raises individual liberty issues as well as being not particularly joined-up government. The government wants to give 16-year-olds the vote, thereby implying that it thinks they are old enough to make up their own minds about who should run the country. At the same time they are telling 16-year-olds that they are not capable of making their own decisions about whether or not they should stay in full-time education. It does come over as rather nanny stat-ish and some of us think Gordon Brown should be doing less, not more, of that sort of thing.

“we should be pleased that it will be introduced by a Labour government”

So this site has given us its first – hopefully its last – party political broadcast!

“Forcing all children to stay in school longer could break this cycle of disadvantage.”

Making sure all children can read and have basic maths by the age of 11 might be a better idea, don’t you think?

This idea is unworkable, and will only disadvantage those who really want to stay on, as teachers have already warned.

And, please, no 16-year-old voters!

Out of interest has a proper opportunity cost study been done to measure this programme against pumping exactly the same amount of money into primary education? Say, to reduce primary class sizes, increased one-to-one for slow readers, etc. IIRC returns to every quid put into early years education way outstrip those of later secondary or tertiary education. Of course, that wouldn’t sound quite so… what’s the word I’m grasping for… visionary.

There is a well known saying “we cannot all be chiefs, some of us must be Indians” which I think applies here. No matter how many stay on at school and indeed go on to uni, there can only be so many ‘good’ jobs.

Unless the ‘Indian’ jobs of tommorrow will require ‘A’ level standard education I’m against it

I can’t help thinking this is just another tactic to get us out of the “pension crisis”. I mean, if people are living longer, then simply delay the pension payments, knocking a couple of years off the bottom end of their careers might do the trick.

“I can’t help thinking this is just another tactic to get us out of the “pension crisis”.

I don’t see how, Ian. The pensions system depends on people who are working now to pay the pensioners of now. So we need as many people working as possible to pay for the rising numbers of pensioners.

Not for a millisecond am I suggesting we should discourage a single person from stopping on at school to 18, but if they want to work, why not let them?

>>> I struggle to understand why anyone on the Left of British politics could oppose Gordon Brown’s moves, mentioned in the Queen’s speech yesterday, to raise the education leaving age to 18.>>>

This is a very strange ‘liberal conspiracy’ that advocates forcing people presently deemed old enough to breed, own property, and pay taxes to stay on in education. Where to begin with this unbelievable nonsense you’ve written here? Maybe this:

>>>”What is not in doubt is that the longer a young person stays in education the greater the chance that he/she will acquire additional skills and significantly more opportunities in life as a whole.”>>>

No, I’m afraid it is in doubt. You’re making the ecological fallacy here. What is generally true is not necessarily so for individuals. If, for example, a pupil spends 5th and 6th year (or whatever you lot call senior school in England) monged out of their trumpets on skunk and E, I would have thought – no, I know from professional experience – that they are unlikely to expand their opportunities. Well, they might – but not in the way you mean. Now the point is, this law will only make any difference to those who want to leave at sixteen. Consequently, schools, colleges or whatever, will now simply have to take a higher proportion of the buckfast-drinking fraternity. The point of this is what, exactly?

I simply can’t believe anyone’s swallowed the party line on this ridiculous idea. Alan Johnson, for example, suggested a while back that it would be desirable because at present too many leave school functionally-illiterate. So – they’ve got through eleven years of school without learning to read and write but it’s going to be all sorted out with another two years of compulsory education? If you believe that, you’re capable of believing anything.

Allow me to close with a true story fresh from this morning, which made me laugh:

My colleague to a pupil in our shared class (shared because they are criminally-insane):

“Where’s Archie McGlumpher? Has he left?”

I reasonable question since a) he said he was going to another school b) he hadn’t been at this one for over a month.

Pupil to my colleague:

“No, he’s not been at school because he bought one of those monthy cinema tickets. He’s seen one film fourteen times”.

That’s what I call getting value for money. But my point is, even if it wasn’t a horribly illiberal idea, what, exactly, would be the point of forcing cinema-boy to stay on at school for another two years? Sorry, forcing him to stay on in education? Yeah, like that’s going to make a difference. Damn it all, if I could get into Blogger through the council’s firewall, I’d be writing a post about how you’ve went done gone lost your damn mind, Mr Ion.

Related to Comstock’s initial comment, that we cannot all be chiefs – I can’t see how the raising of the age wouldn’t serve to devalue every qualification going. If everyone is educated to A-level standard (or equivalent training, vocational etc.) then this standard would surely become as valued as GCSE standard is today, with Bachelor-level degrees being only one stage beyond compulsory education, and a Master-level degree being required for any kind of employability “edge”.

Please, leave it at the EMA stage – a heavily-incentivised choice, but still a choice nonetheless.

Shuggy, just because there are exceptions to every rule does not negate the view that as a whole such a move might be beneficial.

For example, we have raised the marriage age in the past to make sure people know what they’re getting into before they get married.

Taking this further, there was a study done on Denmark on raising the marriage age for people who bring over brides from foreign countries. Illiberal, some call it, but a study showed that it raised education levels amongst immigrant populations and made them richer in the long term.

I wrote about it here: the case for raising the marriage visa age.

Catch21 did a news piece on this just recently:

http://www.catch21.co.uk/vblog/2007/nov/newsbite-school-leaving-age

12. Igor Belanov

Agree with Comstock, Shuggy and Darkwinter.

It would be much better if more effort and resources were focused on adult education. At the moment it’s far too much to expect for people to spend their time and money retraining if they don’t even know if there’s going to be a job in that field afterwards. Employers need to spend more time training as well, at the moment they want experienced, qualified staff on a plate.

Shuggy, just because there are exceptions to every rule does not negate the view that as a whole such a move might be beneficial.

I’m taking issue with the latest ROSLA on two grounds:

1) Just because something is beneficial, this doesn’t make it liberal. Clearly it isn’t liberal since this would involve depriving 16-18 year olds of options they presently have.

2) I doubt very much it would be beneficial. Presently it’s a pretty small hardcore group that are not in education, employment or training – not least because you can’t claim the dole until you’re 18. I fail to see whay would be beneficial about forcing this lot to attend an educational institution since obviously the disengagement with the learning process always sets in some time before they reached the age of 16.

This’ll turn out to be much the same as ‘social inclusion’ where the government decides that problematic pupils are simply to be mainstreamed, without equipping the receiving institution with the resources they need.

I don’t accept your marriage analogy. In Scotland it is still legal for 16 year olds to marry without parental consent. There’s no need for a change in the law since the number of 16 year olds silly enough to get married as soon as they can is statistically insignificant. Also in Scotland, I’m happy to say, the present administration in Holyrood has declined to follow Westminster into this foolish policy.

I’m with Shuggy on this one – if this is a liberal conspiracy then I’m Donald Duck.

As #12 says, why not make it easier for children to grow up to adults, then realize that they need those two years of education? Liberalism is about letting people make their own choices.

A basic income would allow adults to drop out of drudge work and take education courses later in life very easily. A stakeholder grant would provide them with the capital to finance their own training, too.

I’ve always said this should happen. I’m really, really happy about this law.

Chris C, Comstock et al

Philip Oreopoulos’s report (see link in main article) offers compelling evidence for raising the education leaving age to 18. He does NOT make huge claims about attainment but it does offer powerful evidence that such a move can raise aspirations and increase the life chances for the makority of young people. In the abstract to the report Oreopoulos states:

‘I find students compelled to take an extra grade of schoolexperienced an average increase of 12.3 percent in annual income. I also find students with additional schooling are more likely to speak two languages,work, and less likely to be below the poverty line, unemployed, and in a manual occupation. The results reinforce similar estimates found in the United States and United Kingdom. They suggest mandatory school attendance legislation generated significant and substantial welfare gains, which were unlikely offset by the costs incurred while having to remain in school.’

I

Philip Oreopoulos’s report (see link in main article) offers compelling evidence for raising the education leaving age to 18.

I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve read the report you link because it does nothing of the kind. Also, you haven’t dealt with the problem of enforcement – something the reports’ author mentions. Many of today’s NEETs will have a background of hardcore truancy. Even if it were desirable – which it isn’t – how is extending compulsory education going to help when there is already ample evidence that we can’t even enforce attendance until 16? You have also completely ignored the questions raised by myself and others: how can ‘people of the left’ oppose this measure? Because it is illiberal. Liberty is supposed to be a value of the left and this is, after all, supposed to be a ‘liberal conspiracy’. If it could be shown to be socially beneficial and ‘increase life-chances’, would you favour raising the school-leaving – sorry, education-leaving – age to 21?

Shuggy

Many of the NEETs were truant from school, from a curriculum that was alienating and irrelevant. The task is to create a curriculum (either in FE, a school or work) that motivates and inspires – there are plenty of examples across the nation where this is being done to great effect.

Illiberal – 40 years ago it was acceptable to some (possibly the majority) that most young people left school at 15, 50 years ago it was aged 14. I think the time is now right to raise the age at which young people finish full-time education – the international evidence with regards to the benefits of such a move is, in my view, compelling. I may be wrong – it is a matter of judgement.

Alienating and irrelevant to whom though ? Define “relevance”

Just because something is beneficial, this doesn’t make it liberal.

I didn’t say it was. My point is we have to weigh up things in a cost benefit analysis. We are assuming people know that staying at school will bring them more benefits in the future. They may not. Taking your position, it is only logical then that children should not be forced to go school at all since it is an inherently illiberal institution. No?

Shuggy:

On enforcement according to my local paper they’re going to be subject to fines of up to £200 for failing to attend. Quite how they’re supposed to pay said fines if they’re not working is anyone’s guess.

Sunny:

“Taking your position, it is only logical then that children should not be forced to go school at all since it is an inherently illiberal institution. No?

No. Children are bossed around for their own benefit as standard. But if 16- and 17-year-olds are adults — which in some respects they are, and in others they aren’t — they shouldn’t be forced into doing something even if it is for their own good. (If you’re admitting that it’s not a liberal proposition then it seems curious appearing on a website that claims to be promoting liberal ideas.)

I’m just shy of 25 years old. Right now, of all the people I was friends with at school, the two who are best off are the ones who left and got jobs. One’s already running his own business. If I was 16 or 17 and wanted to go and do that, but someone was forcing me to stay in education or training, I’d be mad as hell.

Taking your position, it is only logical then that children should not be forced to go school at all since it is an inherently illiberal institution. No?

The issue of compulsory education per se is an interesting one but falls outside of the point I was making. It doesn’t make much sense to me to assume – as the law presently does – that a 16 year old is old enough to make fundamental life decisions – work and pay taxes, have sexual relations etc. – but not over whether they should stay on in education or not. However, I’d have to say I’m not making an abstract point about liberty; I would be very concerned about the practical implications of this. Chris Dillow had it right (see his blog) when he applied the law of diminishing marginal returns to this because with the kids who would be affected by such a change, this has set in some time before they reach the age of 16. Talk about cost/benefits: very little benefit would be gained from this move but educational institutions would get themselves a whole lot more grief. I doubt you’ll find many teachers who think this is a sensible idea. Let’s be clear about this: you can’t force people to learn and those who end up as NEETS have already resisted schools best efforts to educate them against their will. I see little point in persisting with the charade for a further two years and am delighted that the present Scottish administration appears to agree with me.

I agree with Mike on this one. I teach a wonderful lesson at school each year for my year 10s (14/15 yr old) where I work out with them the increase in money they will earn over a lifetime for each GCSE earned. I start with 1 GCSE and work upwards, sometimes adding a little for inflation. The sums soon become huge.

The point is that a more educated workforce can only be a good thing for the individuals and the country. If the school curriculum hasn’t suited pupils, it’s the country’s responsibility to ensure that the 16-18 curriculum does, either through school, college or work. There should be no child (young adult) left doing nothing at that age.

If it’s illiberal to say so, then so be it.

In my school we had a universally admired teacher who said that education was the dictatorship of the parents. They don’t always know better, they’re just trying to keep things under (their) control.

I’d like to differentiate between schooling and education, as there seems to be a very arrogant assupmtion spreading that it is ever possible to stop learning, which is backed up by value judgements on the content of that learning which are a matter of opinion.

Whatever happened to continuous, life-long learning? Whatever happened to the university of life?

I’m very suspicious of this highly political move by the highly political Gordon Brown. I’m suspicious of his motives and I’m suspicious of whether it will succeed.

This is social engineering for economic purposes attacking youthful opposition through indoctrination. I always found that open minds were always susceptible to good lessons, but the truth would never penegtrate the gates that had been closed by force.

The education mantra is a sham, whipped up by people like Ed Balls who see blind, obediant loyalty as their most likely route to success. The pitfalls can only be avoided if you can open your eyes. Wider.

I’m opposed to the compulsory raise at the moment from my own personal experience at a bog-standard and at one stage failing comprehensive that was trying to go the fully academic route. It was clear at 14 that it was already impossible to enthuse a distinct minority in any kind of education; when challenged they said the school was crap, and so the vicious circle began. It wasn’t their fault; it was that they would have been far better off doing something that actually did interest them, whether it was vocational training, GNVQs, despite their worthlessness or a diploma as the government is now turning to. At 16 currently those in that boat tend to drop off and let those who want to work carry on, while if the government enforces attendance up to 18 the problems will simply spread into the sixth form.

In other words, the government needs to sort secondary education wholesale before it even considers making attendance post-16 compulsory. Tomlinson’s review might well have been the necessary reform, but Labour was too cowardly to abandon A-levels. The diploma scheme now being implemented might help, but I’m not holding my breath. And yes, it most certainly is illiberal to make people do something they don’t want to on the threat of being fined. The scheme needs far more explanation and filling out then what has so far been presented.

I think you make some excellent points Septicisle, much of this depends on your view of education.

Mine is simply that education can be both a social and economic good. It is the best way to tackle poverty, if we are serious as a country and as a Labour Party (if that’s your thing!) in challenging poverty and low aspiration it has to be at least partly through education.

The form that education takes is a different question. The government does need to ensure that there is finally a “parity of esteem” between vocational and academic education. I hold some hope in the new diploma system, but we shall wait and see! It is also vital that other options offered post-16 are directly useful to the young people involved. There are all sorts of things to consider, even, as you suggest, altering the leaving age, allowing college and work placements from 14+ etc.

I think the fight against poverty and low aspiration is, in this case, more important than theories of what is liberal or not. The question should be, what forms of education/ training are available, and how useful are they.

I’ve worked in youth offending and probation for years and virtually every kid I’ve worked with has had problems with school attendance. Locking up parents and excluding kids doesn’t seem to help, and I am certain that forcing them to “serve” another two years won’t either. If you want to make a difference to kids’ life chances invest in those early years: all the damage is done by the time they are teenagers. Smaller class sizes and one-to-one tuition at primary school is what’s needed. That’s when our minds are formed, that’s when kids can be educated and socialised. Seems to me that compelling kids to stay on is both misguided and illiberal.

Ah, someone with actual experience of what they’re talking about and surprise, surprise, comes out against more compulsory education. Don’t expect anyone to pay any attention, John M. – bloggers are even worse than journalists on the topic of education – and that’s no mean feat.

See, I keep hearing that if you get x number of qualifications you will increase your earning power by y percent, but I fail to see the evidence for this in my daily life. Similarly to #21, I am nearly thirty. I know several people that are doing well in life and several people that aren’t. Of the two that are doing best, one has a degree and the other left school at sixteen. I also know several people with degrees who are working in minimum wage drudge jobs trying desperately to keep their heads above water and struggling with student debt, still, almost ten years after graduating.

I think young people would be better off if they were equipped with a realistic picture of what life is like outside school, not fed all this claptrap about how education will guarantee them better earnings. Education is valuable, and equips you with all sorts of life skills which are desperately needed, but guarantee you higher wages? Not in my experience, or the experience of many other people my age.

“Locking up parents and excluding kids doesn’t seem to help,”

Help who ? Perhaps the excluded kids and their disinterested parents may not get much help from this approach, but what about those who are left to be educated without further interference and distraction ?

Surely the net gain in education amongst all pupils would be positive once the unruly are excluded ?

That’s a fair point Ian, but if we want to solve the problem we have to make sure all kids get an education and learn pro-social values. I don’t think extending compulsary education to the age of eighteen will achieve that, but investment in early years just might.

Mirroring a comment I made at Chris Dillows’ blog somewhat:

I think that Sunny and others are right to say that the point is not that beneficial = liberal. I would add to what he said that raising the leaving age might actually be more liberal both in the shorter term and the longer term. You can think about this by imagining what would happen if we lowered the leaving age to 14 say. Now, some 14 year olds from poorer backgrounds would have a strong incentive to seek work rather than stay in education (and this incentive would get stronger over time as low skilled adults pay went down because of the huge extra supply of cheap 14-16 year old labour). This would hurt their liberty in the long term in reduced opportunity, but it also hurts their liberty in the short term, in that rather than choose to hang around at school not doing much, enjoying time spent with friends, etc., they’d have to go and work long hours doing something incredibly boring for meagre wages. Financial pressures are just as much a limit on liberty as those of the state.

The same thing could be happening now for people aged 16, and raising the leaving age could actually free people who are currently pushed into leaving school due to financial pressures.

Chris actually has an interesting suggestion that sidesteps this: raise the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). If you raised that to the level of what someone could be earning in a job, then people would really have a free choice to go into work or stay in education without a financial incentive one way or the other. I suspect the problem with this is that it would be too expensive to be politically viable, but I haven’t done the sums so maybe not.

BTW, this is an argument in principle as to why this might not be an illiberal measure rather than a positive argument that it is a liberal measure. I’m not 100% convinced of the latter, although I’m slightly more inclined to think it is than it isn’t.

Oh, and since this is my first post to Liberal Conspiracy, let me just take the opportunity to say: nice work Sunny and everyone involved! I think the left really needed something like this.

I hated school and failed at it. I went on to college afterwards as my parents expected it. I failed there. It wasn’t until I left education and realised my worth without any qualifications that I went back and studied in earnest. I actually enjoyed it and have benefitted from it.

The frequency of this type of experience is probably quite low, but until a few years ago I would have said that a compulsory education age of 18 would be a good thing. Having thought about it a bit further I think real world experience can really have a major influence on the choices made. In that respect at a policy level, it would be better to enhance the opportunities for night time education/part-time education rather than forcing everyone to stay in education till 18.

“The same thing could be happening now for people aged 16, and raising the leaving age could actually free people who are currently pushed into leaving school due to financial pressures.”

Yes – you get lots of kids doing really really well until at 16 they’re forced to leave by their cash-strapped parents to go work down the pit, this ending what might have been a glittering academic career.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, there’s two point to make here.

1) If it is financial pressure that’s making pupils leave school, then why not relieve the financial pressures, rather than simply forcing them to stay on?

2) It’s bollocks anyway: most of the hardcore NEETs will come from households where no-one works.

Mike Ion: A study in Canada cited by Alan Johnson when Education Secretary found that the introduction of tighter provincial restrictions on leaving school between 1920 and 1990 had helped in raising both average attainment and average incomes.

Er, no, it doesn’t. If you had actually read the study you linked to, you’d know that it uses statistics from the USA 1970-2003 and Canada 1995-2004.

Shuggy, nice rhetoric – I particularly liked “back in the real world” – but this paragraph pretty much misrepresents what I was saying in every clause:

“Yes – you get lots of kids doing really really well until at 16 they’re forced to leave by their cash-strapped parents to go work down the pit, this ending what might have been a glittering academic career.”

This paper (which I have only had time to read the abstract of, it came up on Google when I searched for school drop out rates at 16) suggests that the EMA increased staying on at school after 16 by 4.6% and that people still in school after one year was 6.4% higher. Given that the EMA is fairly meagre (£30 a week I think for children from the poorest families), that suggests to me that financial considerations have a fairly large effect.

“that suggests to me that financial considerations have a fairly large effect.”

So give them more money! This would be a much better idea than having another two years of compulsory education within which parents could be fined for not sending their children to school. How’s that supposed to help people living in poverty?

Well, I did cite Chris’ suggestion about raising the EMA in my first post, with the caveat that it might be politically unviable for cost reasons, although I haven’t done the sums so I might well be wrong about this. Regardless, my main point is not that this is a good idea (I don’t know one way or the other), but that it isn’t necessarily an illiberal one.

Well I’m someone on the left willing to oppose it. I sat in school sharing classrooms with people who were solely interested in violence who were only there to collect the bursary and go ‘paki bashing’ at 4pm. Raising the education leaving age either keeps the problem in schools or moves it to F.E colleges/ training courses etc. It does not solve it.

The priority in educational establishments should be those children who want to learn. Not everyone has the choice to go private and they should not be penalised for their parents economic status.

I don’t believe in consigning any young person to the scrapheap, give disruptive pupils all the help they need but that should not be at the price of dragging willing students down with them. Why anyone on the left or right feels that forcing unwilling students into education will improve society is beyond me.

Clairwil: I completely agree with you on the idea of people being forced to stay in FE at schools, but quite honestly that is not what is being proposed.

Requiring people under the age of 18 to be in training or education doesn’t necessarily mean schools, and if schools can have the power to say “we’re done with this one, he’s a negative influence we can’t change” rather than being forced to keep them on as some are interpreting this announcement, requiring them to take at least some initial direction with things like apprenticeships doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

However it is *just* an idea, and I am as sceptical as any about the governments ability to assure non-school opportunities for young people to get training with adequate support without forcing schools into a position I’m sure they don’t want to get in to, that of keeping kids on that don’t want to be there simply because otherwise they’re going to be fined from that mountain of cash they earn at post-GCSE age.

If children want to carry on their education they can make that choice for themselves. By forcing an extra percentage of children to go to scholl you are dropping a huge burden of children who dont want to learn on teachers
jack weller 14

ha, i would never leave school at 18, i would rather die.
why oh why wasnt i born earlier like my brother, he got to leave earlier!

Well i think that it should be increased because once you 17 there’s no point of trying to drop-out when you made it this far.


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