The raising of school leaving to 18 is momentous, yet I hadn’t noticed. Had you?

For someone priding myself I stay in touch, I find that sometimes this emperor has no clothes. There I was, tut tutting over Michael Gove’s leaked plan to scrap GCSEs and guessing that Northern Ireland would be compelled to follow suit. Guessing? It’s inconceivable that NI could afford to be different however the nationalist parties might grumble. Even in supposedly transferred matters, devolution is exposed as strictly limited.

I confess that the Education and Skills Act 2008 had passed me by. I had forgotten about it if I ever knew about it. And it’s quite momentous.  It extends attendance at school or training to at least age 18, at least on a part time basis. And despite all the fuss over Scottish independence and NI ( misplaced?) pride in going its own way, the Act applies throughout the UK with the support of the devolved institutions, with only implementation to be settled locally.

The extended time frame opens up all sorts of possibilities. What sort of exam qualification should apply to those who leave at 18 but don’t sit A levels? Does any exam at 16  make sense any more? And what are the implications of choosing subjects at 14 for the local 11 plus?  So will the next raising of the school leaving age been seen as a unique opportunity to reform the system or stagger along as usual in deadlock? Which is it to be?  What do you think?   

The economist and former monetary policy committee member David Blanchflower  (nicknamed  Danny because  of the surname’s legendary association) backed a plan of mixed education, training and employment at a conference in the Europa recently. This is the sort of stuff we need to talk about more.   

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London