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

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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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  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    Few 14 year olds know what they want to do later. I was the worst of all and followed my friends onto a course at 16, leaving after 3 months. I tried to return to education throughout my 20s and have only just finished a degree aged 30!

    Careers advice is severely lacking in my experience. Giving a route out of acedemia at 14 with little advice will cause descisions that will be regretted later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    Historically, young people could leave school at 13 or 14 and take a ob. However, there was work for them. My father left school at 13 and worked in a colliery brick making plant. As he grew bigger and stronger he moved to surface work in the pit, then underground. Education was not a priority What work like that is available now. Onward to Victorian values, anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    I was a pupil in the 1950's. At 11 we went either to a grammar or secondary modern school. At 13 both could transfer pupils to a 'school of building' for more appropriate training as bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, etc. Apprenticeships were also available at 15. That system identified and provided the most appropriate education for the pupil rather than today's "one size fits all" approach

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Education needs to more imaginative to ensure all children achieve but in probably different ways than what are currently offered.
    I feel strongly though that children grow up too fast and work at 14 will not protect what little childhood our kids have these days.
    We are all too long grown up - promote growth but protect childhood for as long as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    Hardly a new idea. 52 years ago, I was among the first 11+ pupils to attend a local Technical School in West London. Up until then.the pupil intake had all failed the 11+ but later succeeded at 13+. Virtually ALL these ''failures'' went on later to UNI or college courses and ended up as skilled engineers, scientists, teachers. etc. Leave school at 14 NO, but offer alternative schooling YES.


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