What will the prospect of four more years in school or college do for
students, already bored and frustrated by school life and discipline at the
age of 14? Unless there is enough to motivate and retain the interest of
students who are enthusiastic about practical and mechanical things rather
than purely academic concepts, the raising of the school leaving age to 18
could be seen as an extended jail sentence.
In a lively debate on the issue at the offices of Egremont Today, Jim Powe argued passionately that courses in education should reflect local and national needs. He thought it absurd that there is a shortage of 20 million skilled craftsmen throughout Europe while Britain alone is training enough commerce or social science students to meet all the future demands of the whole European Union. It was far better to spend more time in training than in idleness, but schools and colleges needed to be able to offer practical courses as an alternative route to a successful career, not as an inferior choice for the less academic. Someone with practical training and highly developed technical skills should have at least the same status as the avergae academic, Jim argued.
Chairman of Orgill Governors, Tony Tindall, agreed that a national curriculum for all should diverge at 14 into distinct academic or vocational pathways, and that both pathways should be given equal respect. Perhaps we could learn something from the practice of Eastern European countries in the seventies when students on vocational routes spent one day every week on work experience from the age of 14 with only four days in school. He urged that the extra years offered the opportunity to prepare for life. At present many students leave school unable to plan a domestic budget and baffled by financial institutions and the housing scene. He thought play based learning should safely continue until 6 or even 7 and that students should graduate at 14 to follow a structured four year programme along an academic or vocational pathway. This can present an exciting goal to well motivated or well supported students. And what is so magic about finishing school at 18? he asked. He recalls teaching married students with children of 21 and 22 in a French Lycee in the late fifties.
Perhaps the problem is that too many teachers have progressed through academic routes themselves and have difficulty in recognising genius expressed in ways that are alien to their own training. If we are to open horizons for 16 - 18 year old students rather than merely contain and suppress them, we need to listen to those who will not conform and value their insights.
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