Editor's comment

2nd January 2009 at 00:00

The Christmas leavers will have left by the time schools reopen on Monday, with the last few months of their enforced schooling regarded as a waste of time by pupils and teachers alike. Indeed, the latest figures for staying-on rates for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development appear to support what many headteachers and education directors have been muttering for years - that compulsion does not improve staying-on rates or the number of teenagers who opt for further education (page 22).

With Greece's staying-on rates now exceeding those of Britain - a feat, given that its official leaving age is 14-and-a-half - it is worth recalling the words of the philosopher Plato: "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind."

Now that the boundaries between school and college have become so intertwined, that so many youngsters are embarking on vocational courses as young as 14 and 15, is there a need to be so rigid about the formal leaving-age?

Directors of education propose two options, both with some merit (page 1). The simplest would be to decree that all pupils must complete four years of secondary education before being eligible to leave school. That would create a level playing field for all.

The second would involve delaying the start of school for those with late birthdays. Many educational psychologists and teachers would back such a move, arguing that many four-year-olds, particularly boys, would benefit from having more time to mature before entering P1. Not all parents would support it, however, mainly for childcare reasons.

The Government, however, is not minded to shift on this area of policy. Maybe if it hadn't just launched its post-school strategy under the title of 16+ Learning Choices, it would not feel so constrained.

Neil Munro.

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