The Socialist 6 December 2007 |
Join the Socialist
Compulsory school to 18 - a rosy future for young people?
MANY YOUNG people hoping for a decent future, desperately seeking work, training and apprenticeships, might hope Gordon Brown's recent announcements will help them. Brown plans to make training and a school leaving age of 18 compulsory, with fines and other punishment for those who won't play ball. Will it add up to a rosy future?
The government intends to raise the school leaving age to 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015. By 2013 all school leavers will be entitled to an apprenticeship place. 250,000 apprenticeships are currently available, offered by 130,000 employers.
By 2020, there is a target of 500,000 apprenticeships in the UK. It also proposes a duty on public bodies to offer apprenticeships.
Mark Haysom, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council said: "We want to reach out to more businesses and more people, to give them the skills they need. This year we are... focusing on people who are not in work. We want to give them the skills to break out of the vicious cycle of unemployment and poverty.... We want more people to progress in learning - gaining the skills to prosper in their chosen careers."
But are these warm words backed up with action on low pay and trade union rights? Where will places in the public sector come from while they are sacking thousands of civil servants?
Over a million young people may not be in education, employment or training, (NEET) though accurate calculations are difficult. This figure has been rising in recent years. Such a scandalous waste of talent and resources shows capitalism's failure to provide the basics even in a boom period. For the government and big business, these figures are a 'cost' they would rather transform into a cheap labour force.
Britain has one of the industrialised world's worst records for the proportion of 16-year-olds dropping out of education and training, a higher figure than when Labour came to power in 1997. However, since 52% of 'NEETS' are aged 18, they would not necessarily be affected by the planned increase in the leaving age.
How would socialists tackle this problem?
Many of those who are 'NEET' had low school attendance, largely due to an unattractive national curriculum, large class sizes, overworked teachers and many unsupported students with special needs. Instead of finding support, many of these young people are excluded out onto the streets where many are sucked into the unofficial economy and world of crime.
How many are demoralised because their own parents and older brothers and sisters try to exist on low pay and benefits? It is hardly an incentive to work hard at school, when so few decent opportunities exist in the real world. This government sets rosy targets yet consistently fails to deliver.
Previous governments tackled this problem with compulsion and failed. We oppose any compulsion to force young people into dead-end schemes. Socialists and the trade unions must fight for real training and employment opportunities, with trade union pay rates and rights from day one. This should be linked to a broader battle to improve funding in education, improved pay, benefits and pensions for all.
We need to fight to put the money and the political will into developing the talents and potential of all young people and the future of society. Capitalism has no hope of achieving this, we must fight for a socialist alternative.