A Platonic relationship with teens

19th September 2008 at 01:00

As a rule, it is sensible to leave it to those who wish to show off their classical scholarship to bring Plato into an argument about modern education. But the philosopher's lack of enthusiasm for compulsion is hard to ignore.

It is extremely unfashionable in some quarters to suggest that 16-year- olds should be allowed simply to "drop out".

But this is precisely what the Greeks allow to happen - in their case at the tender age of 14 and a half.

Greece, as our front page story reveals, is streets ahead of us in participation levels between the ages of 16 and 19, and has achieved this position not through compulsion, as is proposed in this country, but partly by winning the argument about the value of education.

Of course, convincing teenagers to stay on also means ensuring that the curriculum is attractive.

In this country, what progress has been made in participation has essentially been achieved by a combination of clever colleges and cash.

But how hard will colleges and work-based training providers work for teenagers when their clientele is delivered to them on a plate by an Act of Parliament? Perhaps more worryingly, what will happen to education maintenance allowances - the prime justification for which is the need to convince teenagers to stay on voluntarily - when students have no choice?

Colleges offer the best chance for the greatest number of over-16s to improve their life chances. Compulsion should be replaced with a lifetime two-year entitlement to fully funded education - to be taken when people are ready.

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