Coercion won't keep over-16s in class, lecturers say

8th June 2007 at 01:00

LECTURERS HAVE voted to oppose increasing the compulsory education leaving age to 18.

The University and College Union says students should be motivated and given incentives to continue studying until the age of 18 - but should not be coerced.

Jon Bryan, a member of the union's further education committee, said: "What sort of FE system do we want? Do we want a system with huge attention paid not to the quality of education but to monitoring attendance?

"Do you want your job to be keeping people in the classroom, people who are there because of this new legislation?

"Do you want to inspire and encourage people towards learning or do you want to tell people they have to be there because the law says so?"

Rather than compulsion, lecturers agreed at their annual conference last week that there should be a curriculum that better motivates people to study, and independent advice to help them make good choices about what course to follow towards a fulfilling career.

There should also be a legal obligation for employers to give under-16s working for them paid time off for studying, and financial support - such as the Education Maintenance Allowance - should be increased, they said.

Union members also attacked the Trades Union Congress for issuing statements supporting the government proposals without consulting the UCU.

Darren Bradshaw, from Croydon College, said: "The TUC seems to have bought the line from Digby Jones, the skills envoy.

"New Labour says their concern is about the people who are not in employment, education or training. But it's the boring curriculum that keeps them away."

The union's unease over raising the compulsory leaving age reflects wider concern about the idea. Professor Alison Wolf argued many teenagers would be better off going straight into work at 16 when she debated the issue recently with Barry Sheerman, the Commons education committee chairman.

Professor Wolf, a public sector management specialist at King's College, London, also argued that traditional academic qualifications are the ones that attract better pay, rather than the vocational variety often offered to teenagers likely to drop out.

Mr Sheerman has argued for many years that the leaving age should be extended.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, has said that the leaving age should be extended as long as adequate funding is provided.

New research by education charity CfBT describes raising the leaving age as "worryingly optimistic". It suggests the number of teenagers refusing to attend education would be so large that it is doubtful whether the Govern-ment would have the will to act against them - regardless of any legal powers it was given by Parliament.

To track the attendance of teenagers over the age of 16 would require a sophisticated computer system to monitor their movements.

The charity's report says: "The success of any attempts at compulsion will depend on the effective operation of a large-scale IT system. The track record of the Government in relation to such systems is not encouraging."

The report goes on to say that evidence from Canada and the United States shows that raising the leaving age has been problematic due to the need for enforcement and the steps required to stop employers taking on those who should be studying.

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