Let reluctant learners go

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
Staying on at school until the bitter end of S6 secondary has become commonplace, yet many incumbents only scrape together basic grades and some leave with no qualifications at all.

The Westminster Government's apparent solution to a similar problem in England is to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18 by 2013.

Supposedly, the aim of this initiative is to address rising youth unemployment as unskilled school leavers are experiencing increasing difficulties in getting a job. It doesn't take much political savvy to expect that Scotland will follow suit.

Secondary teachers are quaking at the prospect. Picture a familiar scene - 15-year-old recalcitrant and reluctant learners desperate to escape school but compelled to suffer the Christmas leaver ignominy. Individually and collectively, they can sabotage the learning of a class and frequently do.

Imagine the mayhem if these pupils have to bide their time until 18.

Teenage mothers will be exempt, so one escape route will be to have a baby.

The already high teenage pregnancy statistics will rocket. And what about teenage dads? Will they be excused school to push the pram or change nappies? Ridiculous.

So, evidently, it might not be school as we know it. There will be the academic route, the further education college arena with vocational courses and apprenticeships with a guaranteed level of training. Does this mean we'll be able to get hold of a plumber when we need one?

If only it were that simple. Contemplate the storm and strife in deciding who'll be academic and who'll be packed off to tinker with pipes and drains. This is, remember, the caring inclusive society with one size for all.

Apparently, kids are leaving school without the skills the workplace demands but, if they don't have these skills by the time they are 16, then there is a lot more wrong with the education system than we are aware of.

Another two compulsory years will not cure the problem.

Teachers are most concerned about the obstructive behaviour which unmotivated, caged 16 to 18-year-olds will manifest. In a society which is already struggling to motivate its youth to gain qualifications commensurate with their ability, added time in the formal education system will compound the difficulties. It would be far better to pack them off to developing countries to engage in voluntary work and they might then appreciate that there is more to life than mobile phones, iPods and the latest computer games.

Further, instead of allowing the jobs market to drive this agenda, shouldn't we be examining the ridiculously crammed timetable which primary teachers are expected to deliver? Modify that curriculum in favour of much more literacy and numeracy and you'll be well on the way to solving the problem of school leavers who have never been able to participate in real learning, because they are practi-cally illiterate.

At least in England, institutions such as sixth-form colleges already exist. Not so in Scotland. Think of the expense of building many more schools and colleges to accommodate pupils up to the age of 18 years. A major problem would be recruiting more teachers. Certain parts of the country are already struggling to fill vacancies and a scarcity of supply teachers is causing all of us a headache. Let them go at 16. It's more than enough for the unwilling learner.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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