Give youngsters the opportunity to work out a better future

PUBLISHED: 11:55 29 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:43 06 May 2010

Getting some youngsters into work or job training is a better option than forcing them to stay on at school after they turn 16

Getting some youngsters into work or job training is a better option than forcing them to stay on at school after they turn 16

THE issue of education was famously a priority at the start of Tony Blair s time in office, so it s no surprise that, as he edges towards the end of his reign as PM, it s still a hot topic. Most recently the big debate has been about new Government plans

THE issue of education was famously a priority at the start of Tony Blair's time in office, so it's no surprise that, as he edges towards the end of his reign as PM, it's still a hot topic.

Most recently the big debate has been about new Government plans to force teenagers to stay on at school after they turn 16 by using 'attendance orders', which, if breached, could lead to a young person being fined or sent before the courts.

Reactions on this have so far been mixed, with some businesses and further education establishments welcoming it, but some teachers' unions reacting angrily.

I'm no teacher but I'm inclined to agree with the unions.

Why is the Government so desperate to keep youngsters in school for an extra two years that they are prepared to risk turning them into criminals if they don't comply?

If a young person hasn't enjoyed the 11 or so years they have spent in school so far, why prolong the agony?

The Government's idea works on the assumption that whatever young people end up doing would be worse for them than still being in education in some form.

Well, what about those who go on to get gainful employment at 16? Those who hated school, got nothing out of it and counted down the days until they left but thrived once they got out into the workforce?

What could we possibly expect them to get out of another two years?

It is naïve to assume that these extra two years would be better for them than being in work.

Of course not all young people who leave school at 16 end up in gainful employment.

According to the BBC, recent figures for England show that 11 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds are outside of education, training or work.

Education secretary Alan Johnson says that too many teenagers leave school without qualifications and often end up on the streets or on the wrong side of the law.

It is commendable to want to do something to help those young people, but I am unconvinced this is the right approach.

I would guess that a vast majority of those who end up in trouble or on the streets would have been lost to the system a long time before they turned 16.

I have no statistics to back this up but I would suspect that the kids who leave at 16 and do nothing are kids who have had trouble or been in trouble already.

Rather than trying to make them stay in a system which clearly isn't working for them, we should be looking to identify them earlier and help them find the route they are most comfortable with, even if this is - shock horror - a job rather than school.

If we can get them working, surely that has to be better than making them criminals for not going to school?


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