Rupert Matthews, a freelance historian and is currently one of the
MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region, makes the case for looser laws on when a child can start working.
OK. Here is an idea to raise the hackles of the woolly left: Let’s
scrap the school leaving age. And while we are about it, let’s get rid
of most of the rules restricting child employment.
What’s this, you say, some grasping mill owner wanting to send toddler’s up chimneys again? Well, no. Let me explain.
As part of my day job outside politics I visit schools giving talks
about history. Generally I get all dressed up as a Roman freedman,
Medieval herald, World War Two air gunner or some such and then pretend
to have been transported through time to the classroom. All good fun
and, I hope, educational.
One thing that I have noticed is that when visiting secondary schools
in some inner city areas, I am routinely faced by a class substantially
smaller than might be expected.
“Where are all the missing pupils?” I ask. The answers vary – the most
tactful being that only those children most likely to gain anything
from the talk are present. Dig a little deeper and the truth emerges.
The pupils who are missing are the troublesome ones, those likely to
cause a scene and ruin it for all the others.
It turns out that these teenagers are not schoolchildren at all, but young adults. They resent being in school, hate being forced to sit through lessons of no apparent relevance to their lives and detest being treated as children. They want to get out of school and start leading their lives as adults. Hardly surprisingly they cause trouble. And since some of these young adults are strapping lads they can cause a good deal of trouble. And there is not much that the teachers can do about it.
The troublemakers don’t learn anything. Those students willing to learn get their lessons disrupted. The teachers are driven to distraction. Everybody loses.
Fast forward to my current incarnation as a Euro Candidate and I find myself trotting round the East Midlands meeting all sorts of people. Last week I met a chap who looks to employ local youngsters. The problem is, he was telling me, that they come out of school uneducated, disenchanted and quite unprepared for basic work skills such as turning up on time.
And I began to think. The two problems are clearly related. Is there a solution? I think there is.
Instead of having a school leaving age, we should have a School Leaving Exam.
It need not be anything too drastic – achieving a good standard in the “3 Rs” would probably do. But the key would be that no pupil could leave school until they had passed this exam. Then, as soon as they do, off they go – no matter how young they are. But if they do not pass the exam they have to stay at school – no matter how old they are.
Employers should be banned from employing any youngster for anything at all – not even a paper round – until they have passed the School Leaving Exam. But once they have that qualification they should be employed as if they were adults – and paid accordingly.
From the point of view of the troublesome, disengaged young adult at school they would suddenly have a real reason for turning up to school, and to knuckling down to doing some work. Because if they did not do the work they would know that they are condemning themselves to yet another dreary term at school. But if they pass they can go out and get a job. Teachers would have pupils willing to work. Those pupils who wanted to go on to higher education would not have their lessons blighted by disruptive fellows.
And employers would find that the stream of youngsters emerging from school had a good grasp of the sorts of skills that would make them employable.
Everyone would win.
Will it ever be introduced? Of course not.
Not only does the idea run totally against the dogmas and mantras of the woolly left who have secured a firm grip on the education system of this country, but it would deliver a large number of teenagers on to the job market. In the short term this would swell the youth unemployment figures as it would take a year or two for the benefits of having a better qualified bunch of youngsters to register in the figures. No government would want that short term blip.