School as Enclosure: Coming To A School Near You

“Schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning.”     John Dewey

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There was an interesting piece in today’s Education Guardian on what I’ve always felt was an ill-informed and potentially disastrous policy that the previous Labour Government put in place, and is due to come into effect in a couple of years: raising the compulsory ‘participation’ age of young people in school, or vocational training, to age 18.

Economists from Lancaster University have studied the impact of raising the age of compusory attendance (most notably in Spain) and they’re predicting increased stress on teachers, leading to a sharp hike in staff absences and people leaving the profession. Some of the reader responses to the piece were pretty harsh on teachers, and some pointed out that ‘participation’ doesn’t necessarily mean staying on in school.

However, young people who are offered training might not get the vocational area they’re interested in (no-one seems to have figured out how this is going to work in practice) and may decide that it’s better to stay with their mates in school, no matter how bored they’ve been up to now. And, as the article points out, schools won’t have the option of turning students away.

So, what used to be a really satisfying aspect of a teacher’s workload – preparing 17/18 yr olds to take A-Level exams, without the disruption of students who didn’t want to be there – is going to become  a battle of wills, between disenchanted teacher and disengaged student.

But, if it’s going to be hard for teachers, what about the impact on those incarcerated against their will? Maybe I’m just a bleeding-heart liberal, but I’ve never thought it was a good idea to force students to learn anything, and I’m not sure it’s going to be very effective either. One obvious implication will be that A-level results will plummet, placing yet more pressure on schools, prompting, no doubt, more gaming of the system.

The calm voice of reason came from one reader’s comments: 

“If young people haven’t been motivated to stay in education by the age of 16, then why does anyone think they can all be motivated if they’re forced to stay there? The only way to improve educational standards post16 is to improve secondary school education pre16 – e.g. widening the curriculum and not teaching to the test so that lessons can be interesting.”

Well, quite.

The article concludes with a chilling warning:

“There is the danger that schools will become not the hoped-for platform for development, encouragement and inspiration, but instead a ‘holding’ camp for a growing number of disengaged young people.”

I’ve written regularly about the positive impact (on engagement, staff morale AND attainment) of School as Learning Commons. But a Learning Commons requires that everyone – students, staff and parents alike – assumes shared responsibility for the learning which takes place. How can we seriously expect young people to be responsible for their learning, if they’re penned-in against their will?

The polar opposite of School as Learning Commons is School as Enclosure, and I sincerely hope that the current administration will think again, see how misguided this policy is, and how we’re in danger of bringing what we’ve recently seen on the streets of our major cities, into our classrooms. 

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