Education & Family

Cut school leaving age to 14, says Sir Chris Woodhead

Secondary school children using a computer
Sir Chris Woodhead says children should be able to leave school at the age of 14

The school leaving age should be cut to 14, a former chief inspector of schools in England has said.

Sir Chris Woodhead told the Times that this would give less academic students a better chance of learning a trade.

He said it was a "recipe for disaster" to force teenagers to study English and maths right up to the age of 18.

Sir Chris said it was a mistake to make vocational education "quasi-academic" and added that the government had a "Utopian" view of school standards.

He said: "If a child at 14 has mastered basic literacy and numeracy, I would be very happy for that child to leave school and go into a combination of apprenticeship and further education training and a practical, hands-on, craft-based training that takes them through into a job."

Sir Chris added: "Does anybody seriously think these kids who are truanting at 13, 14 are going to stay in school in a purposeful, meaningful way through to 18.

"It just seems to me the triumph of ideological hope over reality."

Sir Chris backed the government's plans to improve reading in primary schools using the synthetic phonics teaching method.

He wanted to see the proportion of children who reach the literacy target at the age of 11 rise from just over 80% to 95%.

But Sir Chris, who was chief inspector of the education watchdog Ofsted until 2000 and is now chairman of for-profit schools company Cognita, criticised Prime Minister David Cameron's call for independent schools to sponsor academies as "morally wrong".

"The more that the science facilities or the playing fields are used by non fee-paying children, the less they are available for the parents of children who do pay the fees," he said.

"If the head of science teaches half a day a week at a comprehensive school, it may be good for the comprehensive school, but I don't think it is good for the children who are in the private school."

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