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.   

, , , , ,

  • Pete Baker


    “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.”


    Just don’t expect the NI Education Minister to take responsibility for the decision…

    Following a 12-week consultation the Minister has decided not to follow England where, following a decision by Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, assessment of GCSEs will be taken at the end of the two-year period (known as the linear route). Instead, schools here will be free to choose between unitised GCSEs (where assessment can be taken throughout the two years) or linear GCSEs.

    The Minister said: “I believe that schools are best placed to make decisions in light of what they believe is in the best interests of their pupils. For some schools, the unitised option may be the most suitable, while others may feel the linear route is more appropriate.”

  • Last paragraph of Brian Walker’s headline piece: precisely.

    Others might care to notice that the hot-link behind “Danny Blanchflower” leads to the crucial Henry McDonald summary for the Observer, 25 March, of what the Great Man said.

    There’s a bullet-pointed synopsis of the main considerations here.

    In passing, the two heroic Blanchflowers answer(ed) to the forenames of Robert Dennis and David Graham. I suppose the one from Bloomfield was lucky (or wise in his pseudonym) not to be yet another “Paddy” when he arrived in Barnsley. And, as they say, the rest is history.

  • Brian Walker

    The consultation over linear or unitised GCSEs sounds like an earlier process. The Gove leak is about replacing GCSEs altogether. The Education and Skills Act extending the school or training career is different again and precedes both. I wonder what preparations are being made for it?
    Malcolm, I can only add – indeed

  • aquifer

    Great opportunity to upskill our young people.

  • Mister Joe

    When I was a teenager, pupils with limited academic ability were allowed to leave school at 14 instead of 16 provided they had a job to go to and the parents and the headmaster (or mistress) agreed. Is that still the case?

  • Rory Carr

    “Upskill” ? Really !

    It takes a real brass neck or all the sensibilities of an independent financial advisor to use such a crappy made-up piece of nonsense masquerading as a real word iin a forum on education.

  • Mister Joe @ 12:59 am:

    Absolutely no. But that is integral to any issue here.

    To the generality:

    There is a valid argument for education to fork at 14+ into academic and technical alternatives.

    As I was arguing elsewhere, and recycling in a more accessible place, the academic is well served by the English education system. Any problem is not with GCSE, GCE or A-levels in themselves, but with two factors:

    1. The National Curriculum imposed by Baker, and further modified by Blunkett, is itself the prime “dumbing-down”. Hence GiGo: “garbage in, garbage out.”

    2. Assessment can be:
    (a) “quantitative”, i.e. “norm related”: since the aptitude of each cohort is likely to remain about the same, “pass” similar percentages each year, irrespective of any detail marking. The draw-back is this relies on a degree of subjectivity among the markers.
    (b) “qualitative”, i.e. “criteria related”: lay down explicit rules for what ticks each box, and “pass” accordingly. The down-side is that this leads even more than (a) to “teaching to exam”.

    All that, of course, is not the point Brian Walker was making. So we need here specifically to address technical education.

    Where the system is significantly and chronically unfit for purpose is that England and NI have not done and cannot do what German Berufsschule, Finnish ammattikoulu (and, yes, the PTUs of the Soviet bloc) achieve(d) — deliver a technically-competent population alongside academics.

    To do so would cost serious money — which isn’t going to be available under the present dispensation, but which would (especially in NI) be the ideal front-loading for fostering the start-ups of entrepreneurial SMEs. Interestingly, in the past and in the Continental models, the agencies for technical schools have tended to be municipal and local government. Now try selling that to the likes of Gove.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch and stretching relevance a trifle, things go from bad to worse. In England government subscribes half the fees of mature students in further education (who amount to types trying to qualify though HNCs and the like). That “concession” is about to be withdrawn — and in future students would be paying the full costs through loans. That could reduce the numbers of such students by as much as a half.

    For those whom God to ruin has design’d,
    He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind.
    [Dryden, The Hind and the Panther, iii, 2387.

  • antamadan

    I understand in the south, all (or 98%+) kids now stay on till the Leaving Cert, where before kids used to leave after Inter Cert/renamed Junior Cert. What’s the situation on the continent?

  • test

  • antamadan @ 11:40 pm:

    That, of course, is a trick question.

    In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands at least part-time education is obligatory to the age of 18. One of the main objectives is to keep options open as long as possible. To my mind, that’s an excellent assumption — not least in persuading students to avoid niche options for study (why do non-events like psychology, “sports science” and “media studies” come to mind?).

    Moreover, in Finland, Austria and the Swiss Confederation some degree of conscription still exists. In France (where it was abolished under Chirac) all young people are still required to register.

    Add to which the age at which full-time employment becomes legal (which, putting aside caveats, is 18 in Ireland, though the official school leaving age is 16) and you have something of a recipe.

  • Rory Carr

    why do non-events like psychology, “sports science” and “media studies” come to mind? asks Malcolm Redfellow.

    The initial response that springs to mind is, ” I don’t know. What are you asking me for?” but I don’t suppose that will do.
    Another answer might be that none of these subjects are ‘events’ which distinction it might be a good idea for our children to learn.

    Despite this we can glean where Malcolm is going with this but why he should lump a long respected disciplne, psychology along with more modern and less accepted studies (at least by old duffers like me) as Sports science and media studies I do not know. Perhaps he might tell us.

    That excellent US author Don de Lillo, in his movel White Noise, introduces us to a character, Jack Gladney who is founder and professor of a thriving, wildly successful department of ‘Hitler Studies’. What are the odds on Neasden Academy (or somesuch) establishing a department of ‘Jordan Studies’ to keep the academia abreast of all the latest developments in the world that is Katie Price ?

  • Rory Carr

    Typo: Final sentence: “...the academia…” should read simply, “academia”.

    (Note to self: “Go back to school, you duffer !”)

  • Rory Carr @ 1:36 pm:

    I’d stand by my vamp on “psychology” as not a valid school study — for precisely the reason I advanced earlier: “One of the main objectives is to keep options open as long as possible”. I recall a student doing three A2-levels — in Psychology, Archaeology and something equally outré. What “teacher” could in any conscience advise or allow such a combination?

    Rory’s last paragraph is spot on: “abreast of developments”, indeed. The “school of Hitler Studies”, however, is generally available on the History Channel.

    Now back to the original thread. Can we muse on (and I’m choosing my words carefully here) a thoroughly-dangerous combination: “tougher” exams and extended schooling. What happens in the Gove-universe to those who are unsuited to the former, yet constrained by the latter? Without alternative provisions (those expensive and unavailable technical courses, perhaps), it’s as lunatic as strict phonic testing of beginner-readers through pseudo-words (consider, for just one extreme case, autistics).

    On which, how about a thread on how UK and NI education is singularly failing autistics?