Alan Johnson, in discussing the proposal to raise the school leaving age to 18, said:
"40, 50, 60 years ago, seeing a 14-year-old at work was perfectly acceptable. Now it is totally unacceptable. And it should be just as unacceptable to see a 16-year-old just working and not doing anything else, not receiving any training or schooling."
In my opinion, what is actually completely unacceptable here is that someone who has absolutely NO idea about an individual's desires and propensities, imagines that he has the right to dictate what that other person should be doing with their lives. There, that should be it - this much should be so obvious as to warrant no further explanation, but just in case it isn't, I will explain that I think it is generally very difficult for anyone to work out when someone else is or is not learning. As Jan Fortune Wood used to say - who can tell what that child lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling is thinking?"
I once briefly worked with a woman who, to my mind, should have been a player in the City, so quick and accomplished was she with numbers, business management, man-management, time management, PR, sales, she had the full works. She had somehow acquired all of these skills working from the age of 16 in the apparently mind-numbingly boring task of picking mushrooms in a darkened shed all day. Inexplicably as far as I was concerned, she just loved picking mushrooms. Perhaps something to do with her dedication to the task had resulted in this accumulation of other attendant skills and she gradually and imperceptibly took on more and more responsibility within the business. Eventually the manager left everything up to her.
So when Gordon Brown says that young people need qualifications in a post-industrial economy, I say "What are you talking about? Qualifications don't necessarily equal skills and there are more ways to acquire information than simply sitting in a classroom? Plus, why does everyone need to be a techie? The largest growth area in employment has quite recently been in the demand for Care Assistants. How many college graduates will want to fill that role after forking out so much cash to be educated?"
Perhaps one of the reasons that Johnson and Brown are thinking of going for 18 is because the age at which youths commit the maximum number of crimes correlates to the minimum school leaving age, so that when the school leaving age was 14, crime amongst youths peaked at 14, and similarly when the school leaving age was raised to 16. (see The Welfare State We're In, James Bartholomew). Could Johnson and Brown be thinking that if they just keep children engaged in school for long enough, they will get past that criminal stage entirely? If this is the case, I suspect they've got it wrong, and that what we will see instead are increasing levels of anarchy in schools, as children who are woefully unsuited to being in this sort of institution become ever more disaffected and desperate as a result of the lengthening of their torture.
ARCH has another very likely take on their possible motives.