I disagreed with Helen Clark in 2007 when she first suggested raising the school leaving age, as I don’t believe the mainstream school system is suitable for all young people. However I did largely support Labour’s 2008 policy to ensure all school leavers under the age of 18 are in some kind of education. If teenagers are allowed to drop out of school and do nothing, the risk is that they will adjust to the lifestyle and find it difficult to work or train later in life. But there are many reasons why individual teenagers are more suitable to alternative education, apprenticeships, or work, so any policy really needs to take that into account.
I support John Key’s initiative to refuse the benefit to those under 18 unless they are in some form of education or training. This leaves it open to teenagers to leave school at 16, but means they will need to either work to support themselves, or gain skills to enable them to do so in the future. I was impressed with the promise to offer early school leavers free education in polytechnics or trade academies, but with a couple of qualifications:
I think there is little argument that teenagers are better staying in school where possible, because it teaches a much broader range of skills than any career or industry focused course. I am concerned however, that this offer of free education could serve as an incentive to leave school early.
If I were 16, and knew that my chosen career would require training at a polytechnic or trade academy, I would seriously consider leaving school early to take advantage of the free training while it were on offer. It could save potentially over ten thousand dollars in fees over the two years of eligibility.
Perhaps a slightly modified version of this policy could work better. How about offering the same policy of two years free training to all school leavers, not just those who leave early? This would not only take away the monetary incentive to leave school early, it would also provide a positive incentive for all school leavers to further their education.
Finally, as in many areas with this National government, the inconsistencies in their policies are really confusing. This policy shows they have some sort of knowledge that training and upskilling our young people is good for society and the economy, yet their first budget scrapped the modern apprenticeships scheme. Go figure.