19 December 2007

For Christmas leavers

Some of those who support this government's proposals for raising the educational leaving age argue that it is both liberal and utilitarian. Intellectual dishonesty, or simply ignorance of what the word liberty actually means, prevents them from saying what they actually think, which is the limitation of freedom that these proposals would entail is justified on utilitarian grounds.

My own view is that while a commitment to liberty properly understood should be enough to oppose this latest proposed ROSLA*, I think it's worth emphasizing that it is unlikely to provide much utility to pupils who would have otherwise left at the age of 16.

The two are, of course, related. One of my main frustration when reading much of what journalists and bloggers have to say about education is that they fail to do justice to what I think most teachers, at least in my experience, would argue is the single most significant barrier to learning in our secondary schools - which is indiscipline. Most of this has to do with the fact that our 'compulsory education system' doesn't provide the teacher with much in the way of mechanisms or sanctions that might be used for the whole compulsion thing. In reality, it is only attendance that is compulsory - although success even in this area hasn't been exactly universal.

None of this is acknowledged by advocates of raising the school leaving age who, having confused causation with correlation, believe the benefits of a further two years of education will be conferred to all simply by forcing everyone to attend senior school. I don't think anyone from the ROSLA camp - those who have had teenagers described to them - has given a moment's thought to what impact on our schools these proposals might have. This brings me to the Christmas leavers...

Christmas leavers are those pupils whose parents, for reasons best know to themselves, enrolled their children when they were four. This means they have to wait until they've completed part of what is fifth year in Scotland before they are 16. They can be a bit of a pain sometimes, frequently bringing to senior classes the sort of behaviour that disrupts much of the teaching in the lower school. But they have this saving grace: Christmas leavers are those that assume nothing is to be gained from prolonging their education longer than necessary. This is why they leave at Christmas without bothering even to hang around for the next six months or so that would take them up to the exams.

This is where I take strong issue with those advocating raising the school leaving age. In ten years I don't think I can recall one instance where I thought the Christmas leaver's assessment of their own educational prospects was mistaken. Rather with these it is invariably obvious that the law of diminishing returns had set in usually at least a year before they turned 16 and while we bear them no ill-will, we are as glad to see the back of them as they are of us. Implicit in the government's plans to raise the educational leaving age is the belief that they know better than the 16 year old. Now while 16 year olds lack knowledge about many things, there is one area where their understanding is undoubtedly superior to HM Government - unlike ministers, they know what schools are actually like.

*The present Scottish administration, despite it's many shortcomings, have decided not to inflict this nonsense on Scottish schools, thank goodness, so I can't be accused of being too self-interested here.

15 December 2007

Call To Lower School Leaving Age!

Rather than the educational conscription proposed by the government that myself and the others [such as Fabian Tassano, Surreptitious Evil, and Devil's Kitchen] who write this group blog are constantly arguing against, it has now been suggested that children should have the opportunity to leave school at 14 - by the head of the UK's biggest education authority, no less.

His point is that, very simply, some children are not academically gifted and are not suited to classroom teaching and learning - and as such would benefit far more from apprenticeships.

Some 14-year-olds will probably be better off in some kind of apprenticeship...
That's how they will get success...
[W]e need to cater for the range of people and the range of jobs we all have in society.
The response of the NUT that the earnings of those who stay on and get qualifications is "much higher" than those who have "simply left school very early and gone on to do some very specific training." Yes, it may well be. But those who leave school at 14 will not be the kind of people who benefit from classroom learning or those who are likely to be suited to do the jobs that require high qualifications. They are the people essential to our society - plumbers, electricians, builders etc. - without whom our modern society is screwed. That the NUT believe that qualifications are essential and required in order to live a useful and productive life betrays their love of the testing regime.

Not everyone can have high qualifications and great high paid jobs. And not everyone is suited to them. It's a simple fact of life.

However, at the very least, children shouldn't be allowed to leave school at 14 unless they have an apprenticeship to go to. I'm not entirely convinced by the idea that children should be able to leave school so early, but it is certainly far better than forcing them to stay there for longer. At least they then have the choice to make, the choice which this government seems determined to take away from 16-18 year olds.


This post is cross posted at my blog.