Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 25 Jan 2008

Isn’t raising the school leaving age to eighteen stupid? In my experience, nothing works for youngsters unless they motivate themselves.

Hillary's Advice

This comes from a weary secondary school teacher who thinks the new plans to keep young people in education (although not, exactly, in school, as he says) are plain daft, and he is in elevated company. Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King’s College, London, thinks they will infringe civil liberties, wreck the youth job market and do nothing to give young people the kind of qualifications that employers take notice of. In a pamphlet published by the Policy Exchange think tank she slates it as “one of the most ill-thought-out pieces of education I have ever seen.”

But developed countries like ours need a constant supply of educated workers, and that there are virtually no jobs for kids who leave school at 16. That is why the Government has brought in a new range of 14 to 19 diplomas, which will span an array of specialist sectors, from engineering through hair and beauty to humanities. These are supposed to help pupils to ‘engage with their learning’ in more exciting ways, in order to equip them better for adult life and to increase the supply of skilled labour.

Yet this teacher is right. No matter how exciting and relevant these new diplomas turn out to be, in the end motivation is everything. It may be that a different curriculum will light the fire of ambition and enthusiasm in more students. But if the new diplomas just turn out to mean a bunch of disinterested kids lolling around at the back of a healthcare class instead of a history one, it will be a very expensive failure.