Ask a silly question

4th May 2007 at 01:00

When teenagers were asked whether they want compulsory education to 18, you would have thought the survey would pose the simple question, "Do you think people should stay in education until they are 18?"

As any good barrister will tell you, you never ask a question unless, first, you already know the answer and, second, you know the answer will support your argument.

Of course, I'm not suggesting even for one fleeting moment that those who carried out this piece of research for the Learning and Skills Network would want to influence the way teenagers' views are represented.

But it is interesting to note how the questions were asked.

The survey enquired as to how enthusiastic teenagers are about the idea - inviting them to tick boxes in a range from "agree strongly", to "disagree strongly". The response "agree somewhat" was counted as a "Yes" vote, giving a slim majority of 50.5 per cent in favour, says the LSN.

The teenagers were also asked to choose between the following two statements. 1) Sixteen-year-olds have a right to choose whether or not to continue their education or training at 16 and the state should not take away their right to choose.

2) Most 16-year-olds are not yet ready to make such an important decision about their future, so it is right for the state to guide them in this way.

Objection, My Lord. Leading questions!

But let's take the answers at face value.

As we report on our front page this week, 71.3 per cent appeared to oppose compulsion when the question was presented in this way.

On the most optimistic analysis (if you wanted to spin the results of the report in favour of increasing the leaving age), a thin majority of teenagers support compulsion - as long as it's not compulsory!

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