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November 08, 2007



But, but, but: 16 year olds are so wise that the govt wants to give them the vote.


"First, it ignores the fact that the 16-year-old school-leaver knows one thing that government doesn’t - himself."

Yep, and there's something else that the 16 year-old knows that the government minister doesn't - what schools are actually like.

Mike Woodhouse

I can't help wondering who, in this braver newer world of ours where everyone is educated to 18 and has access to higher education to boot, is going to empty the dustbins once their expectations have been raised to such a degree.

I assume the 15 million immigrants will deal with it.


What a stupid idea! Some children have had enough of school by the time they reach fourteen and do nothing more than tread water until they reach sixteen. Forcing them to continue in education another two years will just add to their anger and frustration - let them leave school at fourteen and take up an apprenticeship...oops, sorry, I forgot, we no longer have any industry left to provide the opportunities.

Fabian Tassano

Here's where the real coercion stuff starts, and we'd better take it seriously. Let this barricade fall and we're down the slippery slope. Authoritarianism will be rebranded as 'opportunity', to use Balls's terminology.

Some 'liberal' bloggers are already saying that *lowering* of the compulsory age limit would be illiberal, so raising it can't be.

The collective blog dedicated to opposing educational conscription is here:


To be honest, the coercion has already started. After all, exactly the same argument could have been made against raising the compulsory age limit to sixteen.

And in twenty years time, we might well hear the same argument against raising the age limit to twenty-one.

Howard Snell

Allow children to leave school after reaching 14 as soon as they have passed survival-grade English, Maths and are in a good physical condition without drugs in their systems. Obvious exceptions. Wasn't it Adam Smith who said something like >>> if you want people to shoulder their responsibilities they must be given the space in which to learn to exercise them. If it wasn't AS then it was someone else or if no-one, then as a last resort >>> it was me.


Interesting idea to make 16 year olds stay on at school. If they are married will the fine for non attendence at school come out of the marraige alowance?

Chris R

I find this gutting. The same summer two years ago as we listened to the radio when de Menezes was gunned down, I was working in a call centre. I was tasked with contacting young people (16-18) who had expressed an interest in a Young Apprenticeship. Call centres are soul destroying at the best of times (and this one was in Croydon,) but this job was one of the worst. Call after call, a picture quickly emerged. There were simply not enough Apprenticeships to go around. 99.9% of those that I called had not managed to get an Apprenticeship. They all wanted one really badly. Good idea, poor execution because there weren't enough companies signed up to take them on. I believe very strongly that this was the way to go - to recognise different skills for different people. So while I was slightly shocked, I am not completely surprised that the Government should change the leaving age to 18. They failed on this big initiative, so why not use that useful sledgehammer to crack the nut again?


Chris - I agree that if you could set the EMA high enough to be equivalent to the sort of job a potential school leaver could earn, that would be an equally good solution. That would mean a massive increase though, and I wonder if it's politically possible? Would the costs be high enough that it would mean taxes going up, for example?


"Some 'liberal' bloggers are already saying that *lowering* of the compulsory age limit would be illiberal, so raising it can't be."

Well, that's misunderstanding the argument (at least, supposing the argument is the same as the one I made on Chris' earlier entry). The point is that lowering the age limit would be illiberal, so that raising it is not necessarily illiberal. It depends on what the effect of raising it would be (just as the argument that lowering the age limit would be illiberal is based on what the likely effects of that would be).

Matt Nolan

Two reasons why the government may want to increase the education age are:

1) The kids have imperfect information about the structure of future payoffs, as you've said the answer is educate them

2) The child does not have a fair bargaining position in the family unit. As the childs income goes to the whole family, the parents may find it in their interest to get the kid out of school and working, even when it is not in the childs best interest. In this case you would need the government to intervene.


The post by Chris and most of the comments so far are wrong: the proposal is to stay in education or training until 18 (including training combined with a job). Now rewind and start again, please, because the discussion about creating the national environment that gives the kids the right opportunities needs to become a strong liberal position.
And (re the bin person comment) some people take a very routine job just so that they can enjoy the rest of their time, work off a debt, etc, etc.


>>>because the discussion about creating the national environment that gives the kids the right opportunities needs to become a strong liberal position.>>>

It's not about giving kids opportunities. Presently they already *have* the opportunity to stay on in education if they want to. Some don't want to and these proposals are designed to take *that* opportunity away from them.

[Next week on liberal conspiracy: why freedom is slavery]

There's two points 'liberal' supporters of extending compulsory education haven't addressed:

1) A pupil demonstrates his or her unwillingness to cooperate with their own education by chronic truancy and a marginal propensity to get stoned out of their trumpets and assault teachers when they bother to show up. What's going to change in the next two years of complusory education? Answer: the miscreant will be larger, hairier and even more pissed-off than they were before. Apart from that, not a lot.

2) Not a single comment or post from the pro-compulsion camp* - not one - has considered the impact of this on the pupils who presently enjoy at least two years of (relatively) ned-free education. Not only is the extra two years unlikely to deliver any meaningful education to the NEETS, discipline is certain to deteriorate and standards overall are likely to deteriorate.

* people who have had teenagers *described* to them...


It will be interesting to see how this is enforced. Parents won't be liable as they are for under-16s unless they are actively obstructing their child in continuing his or her education. Custodial sentences for persistent truants have been ruled out. So you're left with fining people with no income or assets, or community service orders - as if they're going to turn up to those.

The Government's talk is all about "changing the culture" which tells you everything you need to know. This isn't a practical policy, it's just a way of signalling their commitment to improving people's qualifications. It will either be honoured more in the breach than the observance, or it will be a success on paper (the targets are hit) that undermines the ethos of further education as an adult environment for volunteers to learn.

Mark Wadsworth

Good point on Education Maintenance Allowance, which of course will be subsumed into the whole Citizen's Income scheme once I'm in power.


"The point is that lowering the age limit would be illiberal, so that raising it is not necessarily illiberal."

Dan, have I read that right? It would be illiberal to not force 15-year olds to go to school?

Fabian Tassano

Dan, we must agree to differ. In my book, claiming that the definition of 'liberal' (OED: favouring individual liberty, free trade etc.) depends on the *effects* of the liberty in question is little better than newspeak.

I see that 'imperfect information' is mentioned above. Funny how that chestnut tends to crop up whenever authoritarian paternalism needs a rationalisation. "The child does not have a fair bargaining position in the family." So what kind of bargaining position is it going to have vis-a-vis the state?


Fabian (and others), do you agree that getting rid of compulsory education would be illiberal? Shuggy has said that he agrees with that. If so, then you've agreed in principle to the idea that the effects of the liberty in question are relevant.


Steve Winwood began his career at 15 playing at, Birmingham University, amongst other places. Georgie Fame was 16. Norman Whiteside was 16 in the ManU team And so on. But! This sort of genius can't be institutionised & turned into a 'profession' by rent seekers.


"Shuggy has said that he agrees with that"

I did?

Dan | thesamovar

Fair point - not quite in those words. I was thinking about this (your comment on Chris' other post): "Most people think compulsory education is justified - as do I - but it is, if you think about it, fantastically illiberal and shouldn't be extended further than necessary". In other words, you think of it as a necessary illiberalism. I agree, but what makes it necessary is the effect it has on opportunity and hence freedom in later life.


“Steve Winwood began his career at 15 playing at, Birmingham University, amongst other places. Georgie Fame was 16. Norman Whiteside was 16 in the ManU team And so on.”

Chris P gets to the nub of the issue. If the government forces all 16-18 year-olds to sit in classrooms then it will be a failure. But if (as has been indicated) the government takes a wider view, then the compulsory element allows the government to coerce organizations to provide opportunities; hence we may find more Steve Windwoods, Georgie Fames, Norman Whitesides.

Matt Nolan

Fabian, I was simply giving potential rationalisations, I wasn't saying that I believed either of the rationalisations.

Also regarding the bargaining position, the child doesn't have a bargaining position with the state, the state sets one of the parameters of the game (stay in school vs leave if you want). If we believe that the family unit will act outside of the interest of the child, then their may be scope for government intervention. However, I have no idea how you could quantify that, or even if it is a significantly likely situation.

Another rationalisation could be that education has a positive externality. However, in that case it would be more efficient to offer the kid money to stay in school up to the point where they receive the full social benefit of their education and make a welfare maximising choice.


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