Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, has always stood out in my estimation as being perhaps the only decent politician among the massed ranks of unutterable scum who dominate the parliamentary Labour Party. In the past, he has deserved particular praise as being, so far as I am aware, the only Labour MP to speak honestly about the effect mass immigration is having on our country, and he has also been among those to call for a referendum on the EU constitution. Now, at the same time as our government is trying to compel all children, regardless of their aptitude for, or interest in, academic study, to stay in school up to the age of 18, and is busy inventing a set of essentially worthless qualifications for those extra sixth-formers to waste their time earning, Mr Field has come out and suggested that, so far from forcing seventeen and eighteen year-olds to stay in school, we should in fact be allowing some fourteen and fifteen year-olds to leave full-time education.
Of course, in an age when we are expecting ever greater numbers of children and young people to achieve an ever-higher level of education, Mr Field's proposals are certainly going against the grain, and no doubt they will not find favour among those sections of the Labour government who measure their success by the number of communications studies A-levels and leisure management degrees that they give out. But I think that he is absolutely right.
As of this year, at 12.3% of GCSE candidates fail to achieve five or more A*-G grades, including maths and English. Those 12.3% are essentially leaving school with absolutely nothing. A further 41.2% are failing to achieve five or more A*-C grades, including maths and English - the bare minimum qualification currently required for entry to most sixth forms. The fact that most sixteen year-olds are not currently achieving standards sufficient to allow them to proceed to the pursuit of A-levels should at least give pause for thought for those who wish to force them all to pass on to the sixth-form. But it should also raise the question whether it is worth compelling many of those pupils to study for GCSEs at all.
Of course, some of the shortfall in performance might be made up by improved teaching. But the fact remains that some people are just not suited for an academic education. There will always be a more-than-negligible minority of children who will, in essence, achieve no qualifications whatsoever at GCSE level. Rather than forcing them to stay on to eighteen - from which they will likely derive little or no benefit in terms of skills, knowledge, or qualifications - would it not be considerably more practical to allow them to leave school once they have achieved certain minimum standards in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, and to enter the job market (possibly through some latter-day apprenticeship scheme), and gain valuable practical skills that way? After all, there is nothing stopping them from seeking to gain their GCSEs at a later date - like Wayne Rooney - should they be so inclined, and, indeed, Frank Field proposes that the money that would be saved by not keeping them in school until they were sixteen (or, indeed, eighteen), should be used to provide a fund with which to support those among these early school-leavers who wished to study for their GCSEs in their adulthood. So, rather than keeping children in school later, to pick up yet more worthless qualifications, why not let them leave earlier, when they might perhaps pick up some valuable practical skills?