Wednesday, 7 November 2007

School leaving age

According to the Queen's Speech, the school leaving age is to be raised to 18 in England and Wales.

Utter insanity! I have taught in England and I have seen kids in Year 9 who should have been allowed to leave at the end of Year 9. They were not academically-inclined, but were perfectly capable of taking up an apprenticeship at the age of 14. By the end of Year 11, and actual names spring to mind, their behaviour had significantly deteriorated and they were now considerably less employable than they would have been two years earlier before they had accumulated extra baggage.

Equally, there are lots of kids who leave at the age of 16 because they do not have support from their families (I was one), who would have dearly loved to stay on longer and would indeed have benefited from it. So, here is a sensible solution:

Introduce a flexible leaving age - allow young people to leave school at 14 if they have an apprenticeship/job/college course lined up and they have agreed a plan for future education and training up to age 18 with a careers adviser. That way, the less academic do not find themselves practising French verbs all the way to age 16 or 18, but they do need to have some kind of career planning.

By age 18, all young people should have spent the previous four years doing something constructive, and that would be a considerable improvement on the current situation. We also need to address the cultural problems. Academic and vocational courses have to be given equal status: a skilled plumber or electrician or carpenter is going to earn far more than most of us who have degrees, after all. There are also plenty of opportunities for partnership between schools and local colleges to allow young people to follow a combination of educational and vocational courses.

I agree entirely that young people should be compelled to be in education or training until age 18. The years from 14-18 are absolutely crucial in determining whether someone is going to be able to function as a useful member of society: it is when they are most vulnerable to committing their first crimes; indulging in promiscuity leading to single parenthood; experimenting with drugs etc etc. All of this means that they must have contact with appropriate adults throughout those years. However, there has to be flexibility. Keeping disruptive youngsters behind school desks in order to massage unemployment figures would be failing them, let alone those whose education would be ruined because of them.

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