Friday, March 30, 2007

When you only have a hammer

Fabian over at Mediocracy is justifiably enraged by the Government proposal to raise the school leaving age to 18. Perhaps the reasons people are finding it hard to get too worked up over this proposal are two fold. The first is that this is wholly typical of this Government: it's a bureaucratic response to a non-bureaucratic problem. The ne plus ultra of this approach is the drive to expand take-up of higher education. The reasoning, more or less, was 'Graduates earn much more than non-graduates. Therefore, if everyone was a graduate, everyone would earn much more.' It looks lovely and neat on paper, and ignores the laws of supply and demand.
In this case the problem is that too many children leave school unable to read or to write to the requried standard. The solution is 'People who stay at school for A-levels read and write much better than those who leave at 16. If everyone stayed on then everyone would read and write better.' It is as though the Government were tinkering with the data inputs of a programme to achieve the 'correct' output, when the problem is that the programme itself is in need of reform.
The other reason most of us can't muster up the requisite outrage (and the proposal is outrageous - it's a massive infringement of liberty, will be entirely counter-productive and should be squashed at once) is that we don't believe it will happen. It's a consultation document at the moment, out of the office of one of the candidates for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Five will get you ten that this is just a case of running a policy up a flagpole to see who'll salute it.


Blogger Unknown said...

If its a "massive infringement of civil liberty" to be forced to stay on at school till the age of eighteen, is it the same infringement to be forced to stay on till sixteen, fourteen, or indeed any other compulsory length of time?

Are you suggesting that there should be no compulsory educational attendance in the uk?

2:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have misunderstood the proposal - if A Levels are not a possibility those extra two years would be spent learning a trade, which is surely better than droppign out of school at 16 with nothing to show for it.

As someone who works with young offenders, it is most often th 16-18 year olds who have left school with nowt that get into the most trouble.

I think this could be a good thing - perhaps it would be better if not compulsary, but as good as?

2:36 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

It's the proposal to introduce criminal sanctions that gets me slightly vexed. It's also the fact that much of the background to this proposal is that schools currently aren't being successful in getting students to the required level by the age of 16 - so it should make them stay till they're 18.

On quasi-apprenticeships. These are a good idea in principle, but where are they going to be? Most apprentice opportunities are over-subscribed as it is. It's not just a matter of money, it's also a question of availability.

3:26 pm  
Blogger Fabe Tassano said...

Just spotted this, Tim - thanks for the link.

I know in one sense it’s typical of NuLab, but there’s a risk here of being worn down to the point of tolerating the outrageous. Yes, in one sense it’s just another day in NuLab la-la land. But it’s getting more serious when people’s entire lives are being orchestrated. I see this as far more serious than ID cards, because I don’t think my life would be f*ed up by an ID card (it would be annoying, and I strongly disapprove) but my life could easily be f*ed up as a 17-year-old by being forced to spend two years doing something I didn’t want to do. I don’t understand why those who get worked up about ID cards don’t see that. In my mind it’s little better than conscription.

Of course the grey area comes in because the individuals affected are not considered full adults in current law, and it’s that grey area which Labour is exploiting. But I don’t think this compulsion-for-the-common-good theme (which strikes me as relatively new; that’s why I’m alarmed) will stop here. It is being floated, for example, for voting.

You say you don’t believe it will happen. I hope you’re right. I find it hard to believe myself because if they cannot afford current pensions or NHS, how are they going to afford 10% extra state education? Perhaps they are just running it up the flagpole, but that’s no reason not to react strongly. Maybe they’re gauging the mood to see how much resistance they’d encounter for other types of coercion.

Pat, I happen to think compulsory education is dodgy in general, but that seems to me a separate issue. The question you should be asking is, should people who are currently considered old enough to lead conventional lives (have jobs, rent lodgings, get married, drive, etc.) be considered young and irresponsible enough to have their liberty taken away from them? In Scotland, apart from voting, you seem to be considered an adult at 16, so it’s lucky for the Scots that (so I’m told) their devolution means their education policy is independent of ours.

11:13 am  
Blogger Fabe Tassano said...

PS - have reproduced this exchange on my blog, hope that's okay.

12:17 pm  
Blogger Fabe Tassano said...

Tim, Surreptitious Evil and I would like to invite you to be a contributor (regular or irregular, as you please) to Educational Conscription. I think I need your email to do the invite from within Blogger. If you accept (I hope you will) please could you email your address to ftassano at

No commitment involved, you can post as often or rarely as you like. And you're not obliged to carry our banner or link image.


4:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sixteen at the moment and i now a lot of people that have dropped out of school and i can tell right now that they will go nowhere in life because they did not finish high school and now a days most jobs you need a high school degree to wotk there and if you dont have a high school degree you are going to work at a store or at a fast food place and who wants to do that as a living -- i now that once im older and run into some of my friends now that have dropped out of school they are going to be doing the same thing they do now and that is very sad to me...

1:31 am  

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