Socialist Party
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18 January 2007

What's behind the school leaving proposals?

THE GOVERNMENT is apparently preparing to raise the school leaving age from 16 to 18. Education secretary Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown are both reported to favour the move, with Johnson asking staff to prepare for change.

Ben Robinson

But is this a move to increase the education that young people receive, improve the capabilities of the population and advance society?

Or is it a desperate move to cut youth unemployment (currently 11% of 16-18 year olds), reduce benefit payments and play down the impact of statistics on GCSE pass rates (only 38% of school students leave with 5 A*-Cs, including Maths and English)?

Press reports on the plans are very vague. No ideas have been put forward as to where the extra students would go, or how much extra funding will go into building new classrooms or hiring new members of staff.

Cheap labour

The latest figures show 114,000 16-17 year olds not in work or in full time education. This is roughly an extra pupil for every nine already in education. Will schools and colleges be expected to take this without at least a corresponding increase in the money they get?

If so, this move will lead to young people being educated in crowded conditions, with overstressed staff, and will see the effects of education for the majority go down, not up.

The guardian reports "the last time a government raised the school leaving age was a costly, bumbling shambles. School buildings weren't big enough to cope, and millions went (too late) on extra bricks and mortar."

The other option being proposed for young people is to be in work, on a training scheme. Modern Apprentices, the government's current youth training scheme, sees young people used as cheap labour, earning 30-50 a week working full time. An increase in young people on courses such as these will see more jobs being staffed using cheap labour, and being replaced when they have got a qualification.

The only people this will benefit are bosses, paying 1 or 2 an hour whilst supposedly providing 'training'. The proposed move for every 16-18 year old to be in education or on-the-job training will turn hundreds of thousands of young people into cheap labour to undercut wages and do things on the cheap.

Clearly this is just another step in Blair and Brown's agenda for education; turning it into a factory belt to create workers for big business, allowing them to make millions in the process. When the White Paper comes out in spring, it should meet ferocious opposition from the unions and from young people.