This Green Paper sets out proposals to require all young people to remain in education or training until their 18th birthday, from 2013. There are significant benefits to be gained from young people staying in learning for longer – for individuals, the economy and society. Introducing compulsion could be the way to get beyond our existing stretching targets for increasing post-16 participation. The document sets out for consultation our proposals for implementing such a requirement in a way that ensures everyone can benefit. The proposals apply to England only.
The deadline for consultation responses is Thursday June 14th.
Chapter 2: The benefits of requiring participation
1 Do you agree that there is a case for introducing compulsory participation to age 18?
Compulsion will not work either for the young people under compulsion or for their voluntary contemporaries who will now be sharing with conscripts. There is a flawed analogy with the previous raising of the school leaving age to the end of the Summer term after the young person's 16h birthday in 1998. This affected relatively few young people for a few months not the whole youth population for 2 years. The Secretary of State for Education cites this to the Education Select Committee in April 2007 as the main source of evidence for the benefits of raising the leaving age but as the authors of the report themselves point out there was a complex interplay of factors here to do with the age of pupils relative to their classmates as well as the fact that the young people who previously left before final examinations were now staying on a few months to take the exams and get some form of qualification.
In addition the comparison with the school leaving age in other European countries is flawed since there are many other differences between the English education system and those in Europe, not least that we begin formal learning in this country earlier than anywhere else. Why not look at raising the school entry age rather than the school leaving age ? There is rather a case for far greater flexibility of training and education provision for teenagers. Education Otherwise also questions the assumption that the best way to have a trained workforce is to force compulsory education onto teenagers. A better solution would be to remove some of the barriers to education and training for people over the age of 25 and encourage more access to and state funding for tertiary education directed towards people who already have work experience. This would equally fulfil the skills shortages identified by the Leitch Report. Another issue which should be addressed is the toll on the job market of anxiety stress and depression which Education Otherwise believes is not unconnected with the workforce's unhappy experience of enforced schooling in an institutional setting from a very early age.
Chapter 3: A new requirement to participate
In paragraphs 3.2 – 3.10 we set out our central proposal for a requirement to participate.
2 Do you agree that participation should include participation in school, college, work-based learning and accredited training provided by an employer?
Participation must not be compulsory.Funding for training and education opportunities must not be dependent on attendance at an institution or on the acquisition of certain narrow qualifications. This is rigid and inflexible and ignores the wide variety of educational opportunities to be found in employment (freelance or as an employee) voluntary work and in self-directed learning. Education Otherwise is concerned that the proposals will discriminate heavily against home-based education and also forestall the many flexible and creative approaches to education which we already see in our home educated young people. These creative approaches can be especially necessary when young people have special educational needs. There must be an extended range of opportunities available to young people with special needs and disabilities which will enable them to take part in mainstream and specialist courses and work opportunities. This must not be compulsory. There should also be the continued opportunity to learn life skills which are vital for the continued move towards independent living. Home education must continue to be an option for young people 16+. It is inappropriate and unethical to compel young people to take part in school or college or work-based learning and accredited training. The 1996 Education Act directed that education could be by attendance at school "or otherwise". Moreover, while some disabled young people are unlikely to be able to enter the workforce, increasing the options available and making those flexible and non-mandatory will enable more young people to participate. Advice on how this may be made more inclusive should be taken from charities made up of parents and families eg Education Otherwise and AIM. Education Otherwise is disturbed to note that there appear to be no plans to consult families with younger children on these wide-ranging proposals.
3 Do you agree that the requirement should include a requirement to work towards accredited qualifications?
No because this is inflexible and inappropriate. There are many cases where this would not be the best use of a young person's time. More consideration should be given towards supporting the young person to complete a portfolio of work, which would be of far greater benefit in terms of pursuing their interests towards a career. In many areas qualifications are out-of-date by the time they achieve ratification or accreditation. In addition by doing this the system could severely damage the learning abilities of young people with SEN. This consultation appears not to take SEN into account at all, neither is the issue adequately addresses in the Equality Impact Assessments to which Education Otherwise has also responded separately . Once again these vulnerable young people will be carried along on a national tide where they are simply expected to fit in. At a time when the Government is being urged to stop national testing of younger children it must be recognised that for some children and young people with SEN a compulsory requirement to work towards an accredited qualification is inflexible inappropriate and damaging.
Many young people who become disaffected in the school system and who withdraw from education can be supported ( by home education or otherwise ) to develop a hobby or special interest or skill into a marketable proposition. This improves their life chances, self-confidence and future employment prospects. It is likely that some of these young people would choose to return to education or training if there were not barriers in place for those who "dropped out". Compulsion to continue attendance at an educational institution would do nothing for these young people.
4 Do you agree that for those who are not in employment for a significant part of the week, participation should be in full time education?
If by "education" you mean attendance at an institution or working towards a limited range of qualifications then of course not. Education Otherwise is sceptical here of the word "participation" because it implies both the foregoing criteria. Many home educated young people for instance continue their full-time education beyond their 16th birthday, but they do not accept the narrow criteria of education suggested here. Many young people with SEN are already floundering in the system and many find college placements especially difficult, which is often due to lack of awareness about the disability and little if any specialised training. We are aware that some young people find the move to college so difficult that they chose to continue their education at home. It should be recognised that home education can provide these vulnerable young people with the right environment to continue their education, which does not have to be academic.
5 Should full time education be defined for this purpose as at least 16 hours of guided learning per week?
No, should be less.
Education Otherwise was dismayed to find that there was not a box with an unambiguous "no". We have therefore checked the box "No, should be less" and by this we mean that there should not be ANY element of mandatory "guided learning". For example, home educated young people are entirely capable of self-directed learning and organising their own curriculum and studies. "Guided learning" suggests a strong and inappropriate element of compulsion.
It would be argued by many parents that young people who are home educated with SEN are constantly learning and so 16 hours would be of no relevance to them.
6 Do you agree that a young person who is employed could participate part time?
We find this question hard to understand. It may or may not suit the employer or the young person for the work to be part time.
Young people with SEN will find it impossible to do both.
7 Is a minimum of 280 hours of guided learning per year appropriate for a young person who is employed?
No it should be less.
There should not be a minimum mandatory amount of "guided learning". Parents who home educate their SEN young people are constantly involved in a process of guided learning and it is unreasonable to dictate a minimum number of hours. The important thing is for the definition of "guided learning" to be flexible.
The central proposition outlined in 3.2 – 3.10 would require a young person to participate until their 18th birthday. An alternative described in para 3.11 would require a young person to participate until either their 18th birthday or they achieve qualifications at level 2, whichever is the earlier.
8 Which version of the policy do you prefer?
They are both wrong. Many people have learning difficulties that make Level 2 an impossible target. Others may struggle with some aspects of work at this level to a degree which will make them appear to be failures and yet they might be able to find useful employment or fulfilling activity which would enhance their self-esteem and feeling of achievement
They are both wrong. Either option would be completely pointless for a young person with SEN and would only prove to add more pressure to both them and their families. Adopting either model could leave a young person with SEN feeling that they had failed in someway. How can you balance age and achievement in this way?
Chapter 4: A suitable route for every young person
9 Do you agree that, taken together, the routes outlined in this chapter mean that there will be an appropriate and engaging option for all 16 and 17 year olds by 2013?
No because the present proposals are not sufficiently flexible. In addition the element of compulsion is fundamentally misguided. Education Otherwise is particularly concerned about the emphasis on "attendance" and "participation" and "accredited qualifications" because this is bureaucratic, over-rigid and not suitable to the personalised self-directed learning of home educated young people. No consideration has been given to young people with special educational needs. The system is already having huge problems coping with young people up to the age of 16. There is far too little training given to teachers and the inclusionist policy has brought increasing numbers of SEN children and young people into mainstream education. Many parents are voting with their feet and electing to home educate their SEN children. For some children and young people the education system has a deleterious effect on their mental health. There appears to be no plans and no funding for specialist SEN provision. It is simply unacceptable that these vulnerable young people be expected to endure another two years in a one-size-fits- all system without the correct level support and resources.
10 Should there be requirements for young people who are training to do more than just an accredited occupational qualification? (for example, should they be expected to do functional English or maths and/or wider technical education?)
If Yes, what requirements?
There should not be a requirement for an accredited occupational qualification by the age of 18 and therefore there should not be additional qualification requirements either. This will become an exercise in ticking boxes. However there should certainly be a requirement for the system to provide an education which prepares young people with SEN for life outside an institution. At present young people in mainstream classrooms are not being assisted with effective communication and social skills which are essential for making their way in the world.
Having to study something like functional maths might hold back a young person who has particular difficulties in this area but who has found a way to make a useful contribution.
Chapter 5: Enabling all young people to participate
11 Do you agree financial support should still be provided to young people from low income households, if participation is compulsory?
Participation should not be compulsory and Education Otherwise is not able to answer questions predicated on compulsory participation. On the other hand the present funding arrangements should not be cut and indeed the Education Maintenance Allowance should be extended to home educated young people aged 16-19. Young people under 16 with SEN are not enabled to participate in an education system which does not consider their needs. This must be addressed for younger children before any attempt is made to extend compulsion to older teenagers. There is no benefit to the individual, the economy or to society if the young person's educational needs are not met.
12 What would be the right financial support arrangements for young people required to participate to age 18?
Young people should not be required to participate.
13 Should we consider other incentives, such as withholding driving licences from 17 year olds who are not participating in education or training?
No of course not. Driving may be one route to achievement and even employment for young people who have not had success with studies and may open new doors and help them gain confidence. It should on no account be taken away from them if there is no course which is suitable for them to attend.
14 Would the proposals outlined here about support and guidance be enough to ensure that all young people are able to participate, regardless of their personal circumstances?
No because the proposals are over-bureaucratic, institutionalised and place far too much emphasis on accredited qualifications which will make the educational provision inflexible and increasingly irrelevant. Also there is nowhere in this consultation that young people with SEN are taken into account. You simply can not use the same yard stick for these young people. In the critique to the accompanying Impact Assessment Education Otherwise has submitted a case study which is all too typical of the experience of some of our members, where colleges fail to make good on promises of equipment and learning support. Issues such as this need to be resolved in order to enable many people with special needs to complete their chosen courses. On the other hand some young people are unable to succeed in group learning situations, however well-planned and well-resourced ( for example some autistic people and some people with mental health difficulties such as depression ) and no single system is going to be the answer for everyone. While remaining fundamentally opposed to the idea of compulsion and enforced participation, Education Otherwise believes that much more could be done in the way of funding and support for young people to gain access to online courses and Open University qualifications. At present for example Child Benefit is not paid to the parents of young people under 18 who are studying with the Open University.
Chapter 6: Employers playing their part
15 Would the proposals outlined in this chapter provide employers with the right framework to help make sure all 16 and 17 year olds are participating in valuable learning, including those who want to learn as they work?
The proposals discriminate hugely against small businesses and self-employed teenagers. We are unclear as to why the word "want" is being used here when the Consultation Document speaks of 280+ hours of enforced learning as defined by the Government.
16 Given the benefits of a better skilled workforce, what responsibilities should employers have to encourage young people to participate in education and training?
Employers should encourage and enable young people to participate in training when the young person is ready to do so and will benefit from it, not just because they are rewarded or penalised under some scheme. Employment can be of great benefit to young people in a situation where they can pick up marketable skills. In addition it may be beneficial for some young people to learn alongside experienced workers rather than be sent off to to the non-work environment of college in order to receive "education" as a separate entity.Furthermore, young people with SEN may be over-stretched by the competing demands of "work" and "education" and in any event may not be able to transfer their abstract theoretical knowledge gained in an academic institutional setting to the practical world of work.
Chapter 7: Making sure young people participate
17 Do you agree that there should be a system of enforcement attached to any new requirement to participate, used only as a last resort?
There should not be enforcement because attendance/particip ation should not be compulsory. These proposals do nothing to address the fundamental problem of disengagement and lack of motivation on the part of schooled children and young people. There is also a great risk that young people will be punished for an inability to cope with a situation which their special needs causes them to find too stressful, or that young people will be compelled to take an unsuitable course because a suitable one cannot be found or because the activity which DOES suit their abilities is not counted in the present proposals as "working towards accredited qualifications" .
18 Is it right that the primary responsibility for attending at age 16 and 17 should rest with young people themselves?
Education Otherwise objects to the word "responsibility " being used in this context. If we are talking about whether the sanctions and penalties for non-compliance will fall to the parent or the child then we are unable to answer this question as we disagree fundamentally with the thinking behind it. Young people are responsible for their own self-directed learning but they are not "responsible" for complying with an unjust undemocratic system which offers them no choice.
19 Do you agree that if a parent of a young person is helping them to break to law, it should be possible to hold them accountable as well?
Since attendance at an institution/ working on accredited qualifications should not be the sole criteria for determining whether someone is "being educated", Education Otherwise fundamentally objects to "the law" being cited in this way. The Consultation Document speaks of civil offence rather than criminal offence but this question does not give that impression. Moreover the young person in question could be living away from home or married by this age. Compulsion to attend a course could cause a situation to arise where a parent would be enabling a young person to break the law in order to save that young person from further distress, bullying or failure. If stress at work is making someone ill, that person has the right to leave their job. By the same token it should not be breaking the law to enable a young person to take steps to safeguard their health and well being.
20 Is the process outlined in this chapter the right way to try to re-engage young people and enforce the requirement?
The answer is in the question. The Government should rather be asking itself WHY so many young people are disengaged and disaffected. The primary issue is motivation. Compulsion and extrinsic rewards and sanctions largely destroy motivation. Home educated young people engage in self-directed learning. They may or may not be working towards a recognised qualification but they are increasingly being recognised as invaluable by employers and higher education. You cannot compel this level of engagement but you can surely extinguish it by the inflexible rigid proposals which we are reading in this Consultation Document.
21 On breach of an attendance order, should criminal sanctions be pursued, or civil/administrative ones?
Neither are appropriate.
22 Please use this space for any general comments you would like to make.
Education Otherwise would like to take this opportunity to address the question of "human capital". The entire basis for these proposals rests on the proposition that people are there to serve the economy rather than vice versa. This cuts across our fundamental human rights and would be strongly contested by home educating families across the country. We concur with the view of the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations, Katarina Tomasevski who said as long ago as 2000 that "the notion of human capital questions the inherent worth of each human being which underpins human rights, as well as undermining the role of education in the promotion and protection of human rights. She feels that an appropriate human rights response to the notion of human capital ought to be forged, lest the underlying idea of the market value of human capital risks turning upside down the idea that the economy should serve people rather than the other way around. The human capital approach moulds education solely towards economically relevant knowledge, skills and competence, to the detriment of human rights values. Education should prepare learners for parenthood or political participation, enhance social cohesion and tolerance. A productivist view of education depletes it of much of its purpose and substance."
23 Please let us have your views on responding to this consultation (for example, were the number and type of questions about right? Was it easy to find, understand and complete?).
The consultation should have contained many more questions about how it is envisaged that the proposals will affect young people with SEN and disablity. These important issues have been sidelined in the Impact Assessments which do not form part of the main Consultation and Education Otherwise is greatly concerned that important contributions in this area will be missed. Education Otherwise has submitted a separate critique of both Impact Assessments and also highlighted SEN/Disability issues wherever possible throughout this Consultation response.