Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #3: End Compulsory EducationApril 25, 2007
There is some appeal to returning to the nineteenth century and making education optional. While there is a case that the system should make more allowances for those who are not learning in school, but nevertheless might learn in another environment, it is greatly over-estimated as a panacea for behaviour.
Secondary education is close to optional at the moment. Local Authorities are reluctant to fine parents who aid truancy and even those who do take parents to court are still slow to set the wheels in motion. For the worst behaved students there is very little that would actually get them into the classroom if they didn’t want to go. The suggestion that compulsory education is the cause of poor behaviour in schools ignores the fact that lots of badly behaved students want to be in school. Where else would they find a ready supply of adults to torment and peers to impress? More than one teacher has suggested to me that “EBD”, the current term for students that seem unable to behave, stands for Every Bloody Day because that’s how often they turn up. Conversely, there are a lot of well behaved students who would be the first to disappear if school became optional (often to escape the kids that won’t behave).
Furthermore, it doesn’t take too many bus journeys or walks through my local park, to realise that the propensity of groups of adolescents to misbehave is not dependent on being in school. Many of the students who are out of control in school are equally out of control on the streets. While teachers might well cheer if their behaviour was moved out of the school and became somebody else’s problem, it is unlikely that anyone else would be happy, making an end to compulsory education a political non-starter.