There has been a call from the former chief inspector of schools for England (1994 – 2000), Sir Chris Woodhead, to allow England’s students to leave school at 14; this would be after Key Stage 3 but before GCSEs (which are normally used as the base indicator of achievement). The idea is that students who feel they are ready to leave school because they have no interest in academia should be able to go, and then pursue a vocational career: as an apprentice electrician, apprentice carpenter, etc.
This is in direct opposition to a late Labour policy of keeping students on in school further to 18 years in order to review and reinforce their maths and English skills; a policy that looked quite likely even under the coalition government in that it went on with the Labour direction of a bright new future for all. What Sir Woodhead believes, in short, is that two extra years of education will not do much to rectify many years of uncooperative learning and studying, calling that policy a “triumph of ideological hope over reality.” Arguably, the last Labour government put too much pressure on every young person to go to university, painting it as the only route to have a happy life. In turn, it has caused too many people to have degrees, decreasing the importance of the educational award, and making everyone take out a Master’s degree to stand out…
…there should be more GCSE education focused on business…
I think we can agree that there is an element of truth in what Sir Woodhead is saying. If students are so unimpressed by their education then there perhaps isn’t much point in them being there. Ostensibly, there are too many students in the class room and not enough teachers to go around, so this method would help out: reducing class sizes quite quickly. A hidden highlight is that it would introduce more young people to apprenticeships, and to a life that doesn’t revolve around institution-controlled education. Putting people into the real world at a younger age introduces them to the real career changers: experience and connections; both of which push us much further than a few grades and a flash certificate, even if you get it at a plush ceremony.
Fundamentally, it gives students more freedom. More freedom to take control of their life and career, and to start preparing both. This is, however, where the argument starts to fall apart. Yes, it is good to introduce young people to apprenticeships, to show that they are not inferior to university degree (too often young people are demeaned beyond redemption, if they can’t get into university) and that a very good career can be had if you become a professional tradesperson. But what if, during their GCSEs they discover they have a great love of biology after doing a dissection, or poetry after an English lesson? If anything, there should be more GCSE education focused on business, as an alternative to drama or a language, giving young people a real insight into what action to take if they want to set up a company further on in life; especially apt for self-employed tradespeople.
…exposing them to the harsh realities of life.
Not everyone is a one size fits all case, but to give such independence at 14, is a big ask of not only children (you can’t even call them young adults), but parents, too. Most people do not know what they want to be at 14, and with an economy moving, as it has done over the past three decades, towards the services industry, you have to ask yourself, are there going to be enough vocational jobs available at the end of such a grand policy? Does a government really want to see the return of the industrial sector, as there would be such a return with millions of highly-skilled tradespeople, and its great union following?
Yes, reducing the leaving age to 14 would give young people more of a chance to do what they want, but how many young people want to go into a vocational career? Truancy is not caused by many young people going home and making a go-kart, it’s caused by laziness and the availability of procrastination software and hardware: xbox, Playstation, the Internet. With such a policy, also, it seems like a way of getting unruly children to grow up, by exposing them to the harsh realities of life. This may be a good thing, but it could quite easily increase gang culture and crime to an unprecedented state. Reducing the leaving age to 14 would be bad for young people’s education, their future and the country’s future.