Train of thought
Here’s a question. How best to help those youngsters who fail to gain much from their education up to the current compulsory age of 16?
How best to help them - both in their interests and in the wider community interest? That wider interest being both the plus side of fostering a productive contribution to the economy - and the absence of a negative, that they require benefits and may drift into disorder.
An enormously challenging question. And one which is about to be tested with two competing models, north and south of the border.
Gordon Brown is particularly dedicated to this question. He believes, passionately, that Britain must “skill up” to meet the challenge of the new economy.
His argument is that unskilled labour will be required less and less. What will be needed is a skilled, trained workforce.
Hence the review into skills, commissioned by the Treasury and conducted by Sandy Leitch, the Scot who formerly headed Zurich Financial Services.
Hence today’s bill in the Queen’s Speech which will, by 2015, require all 16 to 18-year-olds to stay in some form of education or training. There will be concomitant duties on employers and parents to ensure compliance.
A similar measure was advanced by Jack McConnell for Scotland - and argued with comparable passion. Indeed, Mr McConnell says his biggest regret is that he will not now be able to introduce such a provision.
That is, of course, because Mr McC lost. Alex Salmond is now the first minister. And he does not agree with the compulsory element of the Queen’s Speech measure - which only applies to England and Wales.
Towards the end of September, Mr Salmond’s Scottish Government set out their own skills strategy. The aim is to encourage and support - but not to oblige.
Today’s measure for England and Wales has - wrongly - been described as raising the school leaving age. That is incorrect because it will be possible to meet the new obligation in other ways, for example by undertaking certificated training while in employment.
However, Mr Salmond and his ministers dissent from the principle. Under devolution their scheme will, of course, apply in Scotland.
We will be able to compare and contrast.