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Alternative forms of education

Exclusions are currently running at more than 40,000 per year and affect 3 per cent of the school population. Many of those excluded in the compulsory years will choose not to engage in education after 16.

Sir Tom Hunter is, therefore, right to propose that education should fit the child (TESS, February 9).

This is not to suggest abandoning either the comprehensive system or the presumption of mainstreaming. But it is right to consider if, for some pupils, including those who are serially excluded, alternative forms of education may be the best way forward.

Small charitable foundations seem to have been particularly successful in engaging disengaged and disaffected young people. Good examples are Spark of Genius in Paisley, and the Boyhood to Manhood Trust in Peckham. These alternatives are not cheap. However, as Sir Tom points out, the potential gains as well as the costs of such investment need to be considered.

One of the difficulties is that British public sector spending models do not distinguish between consumption spending that provides immediate benefits, and investment spending that does not yield returns until some time in the future. Spending on education is considered no different from spending on benefits.

Achieving fair and equitable outcomes from education will require much greater investment in some young people than others. Tackling exclusions and those not in education, employment or training (Neet) may not be cheap in the short-term, but it can yield both the economic returns highlighted by Sir Tom and the social and individual benefits that the Government seeks.

Ian Finlay department of educational and professional studies, Strathclyde University

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