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.


Fabian Tassano said...

Having read the Wiki article on ROSLA which you linked to, and the associated article on the UK, it seemed to me the civil liberties aspect was being left out of the picture, so I've now added a para about that (under "opposition"). I've tried to be NPOV, so even those in favour shouldn't have a problem with it.

The Gray Monk said...

You have identified exactly the probvlem in your statement that attendance doesn't mean eductaion. Further, attendance in a group that has no power to impose discipline upon any group or individual is bound to fail. Pity it will destroy every other child's hope of education in the process.