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Joined-up thinking?

Exciting news for British schoolchildren. Early leavers ‘will not be jailed’ (PA). Except of course they will be under control orders, in effect; incarcerated and enslaved part-time. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” ran the old slogan. This policy is pretty clear evidence that what’s offerred to many in the state school system is not education. If you have to force people to take something, then it is not plausiible that it is of use to them. There is no problem selling education and training to those who want it. Even very poor parents in London often find money for extra lessons or private day-schooling on top of the taxes they pay to imprison other people’s children. The prison function of the system reduces its value to others.

Put aside for the moment whether it should be paid for from taxes or not. How much more cost-effective would state education be if it were voluntary, and the classes were full of eager participants and even the grumpiest teenagers present were those whose parents or peers had persuaded them it was worthwhile? How much better would the curriculum be if it had to attract an audience by being interesting or useful, rather than prescribed by bureaucrats? How much better would teachers feel about their work if it didn’t include the roles of commissar, bureaucrat and gaoler?

Teenagers who refuse to stay in education until they are 18 will not face jail, Schools Secretary Ed Balls insisted ahead of new legislation to raise the leaving age.

The reform – hailed as one of the biggest in education for half a century – will be included in the first Queen’s Speech of Gordon Brown’s premiership on Tuesday.

Mr Balls said the legislation, which will raise the age to 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015, will be backed by a “robust regime” of support and sanctions including spot fines and court action.

Since if you are at school you are barred from employment without the permission of the authorities, I imagine they will pay the fines with the proceeds of robbery and prostitution. Well done, Balls!

23 comments to Joined-up thinking?

  • Jonny Newton

    The thing is that even if I agreed that the government had the right (or duty) to impose compulsory schooling for the benefit of children; even if I agreed with almost every so-called principle of the half-arsed, weightless cockamamie masquerading as the ideology of New Labour; I would regard this as a policy obviously incapable of attaining any the goals it is meant to attain.

  • Eamon Brennan

    Teenagers who refuse to stay in education until they are 18 will not face jail

    We should, of course, be grateful to see such generous restraint from our masters.

    The use of such language is very telling. It can only mean one of two things. Either Balls himself feels that imprisonment of refusniks is a contention worthy of discussion, or he anticipates that others involved in enforcing this diktat are considering this. He doesn’t excoriate the idea as he should. He merely “assures” us that the government will limit itself to control orders and spot fines.

  • steve_roberts

    The problem: State education is so poorly regarded by its target market, then even when provided free of charge, take-up is low.

    The government’s ‘solution’: Make the product compulsory, on pain of every penalty short of prison (although IIRC, if you refuse to pay a fine you will eventually be imprisoned).

    Personally, I think there are better solutions.

  • Monty

    By the time they reach 16, the education refuseniks have worked out many ways of evading school. Simple truancy is one, behaviour bad enough to incur an exclusion is another. Our state schools, and those pupils who are seriously involved in learning, will be the losers. Sixth form students will now have to put up with all the disruption, including violence and intimidation, that characterises the lower school. The young thugs will have to be excluded eventually, by which time they will have wrecked the A-Level courses of the rest of their cohort.
    And this measure will solve no problems at all. It will, at best, partially mask the problems for a couple of years.

  • Nick M

    So Ed “should be hung his” Balls is refusing to be Gauleiter of our Youth Work & Re-Education Camps! He should be applauded for his wonderful liberalism.

    There was an argument here recently about whether new Labour was “totalitarian”. I care to ask the nay-sayers on that thread if they have a comment on this development?

  • It’s all in the name of equality. All people (pupils) must be equal – get equal education… at least equal in the number of years spent in school. Next all will be forced to get college education.
    God forbid that some learn more than others.
    Equality will be enforced, we are in the brave new world.

  • Quenton

    Over here across the Pond in The Land of the Free I saw my local paper had a front page story last week about the local police cracking down on truancy. They were showing up at people’s houses looking for either the kids or the parents whom they were intent on hauling off to jail if the kids weren’t to be found. It was sickening that the paper was treating this behavior by the state as not only normal, but desperately needed.

    I recall way back in elementary school having to sit through a Civics lesson about why they Soviet Union was a big bunch of mean evil people that we shouldn’t like. Apparently those evil Ruskies had a system where it was mandatory for children to attend State schools or else their parents could be thrown in jail! It was also common for those state schools to indoctrinate those children and teach them to rat out their parents if they were doing anything un-soviet.

    I sure am glad we won the cold war. Just think, if we hadn’t we would be living under system of government where the people are stripped of their liberties and humanity in the name of “the common good”. Oh wait…..

  • Steve

    A staggeringly stupid idea. Every one who gathers here will remember that some kids at their school just didn’t want to be there, what conceivable good will be acheived by keeping them there for another 2 years.

    There is also some worryingly coercive thinking here. Basically:
    A, the 16 yr old is forced to do something they dont want to do.
    B, Sixth forms having to take on and deal with people who manifestly should not be there.
    C, When it dawns on Balls n Co that trying to keep bored, disruptive near adults in the classroom, is just stupid, you can bet your bottom dollar that (i) Employers will be forced to offer apprenticeships etc (ii) the public sector will swell yet again with ever more pointless training schemes and maybe even some sort of compulsory “community service” work. Absolutely anything to ensure to ensure that the target is met.

    It is also the usual patronising nanny state crap I have sadly come to expect these days, and doesn’t even appear to have been properly thought out (no surprise there) To pluck a couple of examples out of the air:
    A, Jane gets married at 16, to a man who is earning good money. together they decide to start a family. Up pops the NEET inspector – “Aha” he says to Jane “you should be in Education or Training” Jane refuses on the grounds that she wants to look after her baby, and her husband is pulling in enough money for both. Is Jane really going to be forced back into school?
    B, John is a farmers son, he has learned alongside his father for years, and at 16 can’t wait to work the land.
    Up pops the NEET inspector – “Aha” he says to John Senior “your son is not training” “Yes he is” retorts J Senior ” I am teaching him everything I know” “Ah but you dont have the NVQ level 3 accredited agricultural trainers certificate and so on and so on.

  • Nick M

    Steve,
    It is option (ii) that worries me. Round where I used to live there were loads of crappy little “colleges” doing crappy little vocational courses in stuff like IT or “business” or “travel”… Oh they made claims about getting dole-hounds and kids into “jobs”… The impression I got sniffing around a few (I was checking out the computing courses) was that the jobs were very frequently in teaching at similar such institutions… The jobs of course were going because the Gov was opening these things like there was no tomorrow so it could crow about targets. No one seemed to see the big picture that this was all totally insane. But what the heck – everyone gets a certificate at the end.

    Your points about John & Jane are duly noted. Undoubtedly both of them are learning vastly more important skills than anything you’d pick up on an NVQ.

    So, what about me? I got hold of some books (yes, books!) and some web-based resources and taught myself. I had vastly more fun than I would of done on one of these truly soul-destroying courses. Perhaps I ought to print myself a certificate! It would be worth more than the ones those colleges produce.

    The distain this government shows for self-improvement (to use the Victorian term) or for informal learning is mind-blowing. I heard an educational wonk going on about how education should produce “smartly turned out, diligent, punctual workers with good social skills”. They’ll be giving out certificates in fucking “amiability” next!

  • ian

    smartly turned out, diligent, punctual workers with good social skills

    …but that is exactly what many employers want too!

  • Sigivald

    If you have to force people to take something, then it is not plausiible that it is of use to them.

    Now, steve is right that those who Do Not Want to be there will gain nothing.

    But – I don’t know about you, but plenty of kids would quite happily sit at home all day playing video games, or run wild with their friends all day, rather than learn something.

    Kids are notoriously awful at valuing future gains and costs of current actions.

    Compulsion to be educated only and specifically in the state system is an ill, but requiring education of some sort even if the kids would prefer to play Halo all day probably isn’t.

    (Of course, the cut-off for when to stop compelling “some sort of education” could also be much lower than 16 or 18; a 12 or 13 year old has a much better grasp of future effects of being uneducated than a 9 or 10 year old.

    And separating out those who Do Not Want education to a vocational or simply absent track makes education much more pleasant and efficient for those who Do Want.)

  • RAB

    I have been over in Wales having a wonderful time for the past week or so, and as you do, you tend to have conversations with your parent (only one left now I’m afraid) about family history.
    Mum fished out some old history books about our family.
    Seems both my great uncles were classical harpists, who were so good they were winning National Eisteddffods and doing private gigs for Queen Victoria and Edward VII at the age of thirteen, BEFORE winning scholarships to the Royal Acadamy of Music.
    They left the Acadamy at aged 16, because they could benefit from no more knowledge than they already had.
    I already knew that my father left school at 14 to run a successful business.
    What the fuck is the matter with Mr Balls? Well massaging the unemployment figures I guess.
    If you will provide the rope Nick, I will help with the hoisting.
    OT but … just took charge of a beautiful Welsh Springer. Bonding nicely! She’s curled up at my feet as I type…

  • fjfjfj

    You’re quite right about the “will not be jailed” part. How very liberal. Incidentally, you’ll be pleased to hear that I will not punch the minister responsible in the face. The press release is incredible in its arrogance.

    However, for all the horror of it, I for one do find this whole situation very interesting, particularly its mechanics.

    For this to go ahead without becoming a mockery, it seems to me that they will have to totally infantilize 16 and 17 year olds, who previously in the UK have enjoyed (at least theoretically) really quite a reasonable amount of autonomy. Indeed, this infantilization has been proceeding apace for years. They have already banned them from buying tobacco, and I think they will probably now try to ban them from getting married (save the poor muslim girls!), from having sex (it’s already illegal to have photos or videos of this happening and illegal full stop in some circumstances), and maybe also from driving cars, too.

    This will lead to violence and general horribleness for everyone involved, but then, everybody knows this already, don’t they?

    An other interesting thing to see (in the Chinese sense at least) will be what happens to sixth form colleges. These are generally quite liberal places for the students: not quite like a university, but nearly so, and much better than, say, US high schools for the same age range.

    Educational Maintenance Allowance (which is dole for any 16-18 year old whose parents aren’t rich to go to further education college) has made these much more unruly places already, and it will be interesting to see how the even more coercive changes proposed affect the way the colleges run. For example, will they have institutionalized punishments: detentions and so on? US high schools usually do for that age range, but in the UK this is rare even in the sixth forms of schools.

    Changes like this to the actual institutions will happen very quickly if the change goes ahead, because the student turnover is so rapid.

    Save the children, I say.

    Incidentally, I’ve just previewed this comment, and my name doesn’t appear with it. It just says:

    Posted by at November 5, 2007 07:51 PM

    This is not doing much harm, but I take it it’s a bug?

  • Nick M

    ian,
    True, obviously… But it seems a pathetic goal for education… Surely those things can just come from socialization? I mean aren’t the lessons in school supposed to aim a little higher and impart a knowledge of science, maths and languages in the pupils? Or am I being naive?

    fjfjfj,
    A mockery? Of course it will be a mockery! It’s the invention of NeuArbeit – not fascist-lite, more fascist incompetent… It will be supremely Balls-Ed up.

  • fjfjfj

    Nick M,

    I hope so. I hope so…

  • Quenton: I went to one of those Russkies schools, and not only there was much less indoctrination than you might imagine, we were also actually taught math and science! (Well, not much history, though: apparently the evil Americans dropped the A Bomb on those peaceful Japanese out of pure evilness). Oh, and i liked school, BTW.

    Sigivald: the point is not that kids cannot be forced to go to school (or brush their teeth, or eat their broccoli), but who should be doing the forcing. Answer: not the government. Of course, after a certain age (which varies from kid to kid) even parents cannot force them to do anything anymore. This is the time for them to start earning money for themselves.

    RAB: what is her name, and where are the pictures???

  • RAB

    No doubt others here will have heard of the story of a Polish kid aged 15, who has gone back to poland to study because he was disgusted with the infantile level of British education (no link I’m afraid. I have been away from a computer all week. S4C is no substitute believe me!).
    The Mail followed it up and found that most Polish children continue in education till 18 because they want to and because they are actually getting one.
    Old fashioned things like being able to speak 3 languages and reading Shakespeare as standard and doing real science not voodoo science in a colouring book like over here.
    No wonder they are taking all our jobs. They are actually qualified to do them.
    Alisa. She is called Saffie, and she is absolutely fabulous! Pic will follow. We’ve only been back a few hours :-)

  • RAB: exactly. Most kids like to learn, but it does not mean they necessarily like school, because, oddly enough, it is not necessarily a place to learn things.

    We are looking for a Bouvier pup – Lady is getting old.

  • cubanbob

    A better incentive is disqualify the drop outs from welfare benefits until they have ten years of steady wok history behind them.

  • Sunfish

    How good to know that UK schools are so much like US schools.

    I got a real education in high school: Coming to advanced-placement history classes on mind-altering leafy-green substances prepared to argue that all of US/European history was driven by the conflict between free love, marijuana, and Soundgarden/Ministry/Metallica vs. creeping statism, and that all governments were the same and so were all corporations (and that there was no qualitative difference between the Hitler Youth, the Young Pioneers, and the public school systems in the US, which got me in a little trouble), fooling around with Amanda D. in the back of study hall, making bongs in shop class…

    Yep, government schools were a real good idea.

  • My father left school at 14 to work the farm. He’s worked it for 48 years.

    I finished 17 years of high school, 3 years of university. Since I dropped out I’ve played cards for a living for the last 8 years.

    I owe the government $50,000 in university fees, which is about 2/5ths of the actual cost of my 3 years of university.

    I will never pay it back, because i will never pay tax in Australia. The day they start taxing Gambling is the day I emigrate.

    Education – its what everyone needs!

  • The kids will revolt, then all hell breaks loose.

  • Paul Marks

    I think you are right mandrill.