Friday, January 18, 2008

Free Schools and the school-leaving age

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

A lot of Balls

Nick Clegg is right, of course. Allowing parents and community groups to set up Free Schools is just what is needed.

For far too long, we have been stuck in a mind-set where there are good schools and bad schools– which class a school falls into being largely determined by the social class of the children who go there – and all we have to offer are complicated schemes for divvying up those places more equitably.

The thought that parents forced to send their children to a bad school might be better off seeking an alternative – or even providing one themselves – seems to have been beyond us. At last that is changing.

So well done, Nick. And as House Points is always loyal, you won't catch this column saying it is a pity you didn't make more of these ideas during the leadership election.

Meanwhile at Westminster, Ed Balls is trying to raise the school leaving age – or at least the education leaving age – to 18. This is a strange ambition in a society where 16 is rapidly becoming the age of majority in the way that 18 and 21 used to be.

As Michael Gove pointed out, at 16 you can marry, pay taxes, volunteer for military service and consent to sexual relations. As David Laws pointed out you can also change your name, pilot an aeroplane, gamble, join a trade union, leave home and apply for a passport. And Harriet Harman talks enthusiastically about giving 16-year-olds the vote.

So why is the government seeking to criminalise young people aged 16 and over who don’t want to continue their education?

In part it is because Labour has always overestimated the role that the education system plays in economic success. It will never be possible for government to know what skills the economy will need in a few years’ time. And in part it is because Labour just enjoys telling other people what to do.

But mostly, research suggests, it is because the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families wants others to experience a little of what he was made to suffer. What can it have been like going through public school with a name like Balls?

1 comment:

Jo Simmonds said...

For anyone who feels as strongly as I do against the proposals to raise the school leaving age - there is a facebook group 'no to complulsory schooling for over 16's' - it only has 63 members so far so it needs all the help it can get!

As a pupil in a comp our classes were constantly being disrupted by other students who weren't interested and wanted to leave...more so after the age of 14...becoming unbearable at the age of 16...

I cannot imagine what life will be like if those students are forced to stay at the age of 18...and what will happen if they truant? Will the parents still be breaking the law?

A couple of 16 year olds I knew when I was this age had already left home!!