Leviticus tells how a goat was laden with the sins of the tribe and sent off into the wilderness in expiation. We teachers are feeling similarly burdened as yet another winning government decision comes back to bite us.
If you’re going to be historical, the original blame lies with the former Labor governments, which thought it would be a good thing to abolish technical schools. Apparently, the comrades felt that the sons and daughters of the proletariat were being ghettoised. The upshot, of course, was that there was very soon a skills shortage leading to the necessity of recruiting foreigners (who still do have technical training in their countries presumably).
Back at the coalface of education, we were suddenly made to accommodate kids into an academic stream to which they were unsuited. They did badly or rebelled or both. Fortunately, there was an out. A kid could leave the system at 15 and it is fair to say that teachers checked their calendars with certain students with the assiduousness of Mayan priests. A 15-year-old is still a kid so it was inevitable that the government would raise the leaving age to 16. Fair dos. It still left the often demanding years 11 and 12 to be completed by those best equipped for the task.
But now Big Sister has decreed that 17 is the new leaving age. O me miserum, the cry has gone up from school staffrooms across the land. For the disgruntled 16-year-old will now be an outright subversive 17-year-old.
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The minister talks about equality of opportunity when we all know it is designed to massage the jobless figures. Perhaps if she raised the leaving age to 30 we might kid ourselves that the economy is in the rudest of health.
Meanwhile, discreet inquiries are being made of our charges.
“Is that the manual for a driver’s licence you’re perusing, young Tarquin?”
“Fair suck of the sav, sir. I’ve just turned 16.”
Never has man been so undone by a single word. Just. O God of the Levites, give us strength.