Youth Opportunity

The government's proposal that all young people should have extended education beyond 16 yrs has been typically misrepresented by many newspapers, as always anxious to sensationalise rather than to inform.

The government are not saying that all youngsters should be chained to the school desk until they are 18 yrs. What ministers are saying is, that in today's competitive jobs market youngsters need skills. And whether they be academic or manual skills they should be given the opportunity to develop those skills and the responsibility to make the most of that opportunity.

I was not a successful schoolboy. I failed the eleven plus and left school at 15 yrs. To be honest I was never good at passing exams. On the other hand I know lots of people who are brilliant at passing exams but not very good at anything else.

Personally I found that my real education began after I left school. Of course school provided me with the basic tools I needed, reading, writing arithmetic etc., but I was lucky enough to win an apprenticeship in a large engineering company - for which I had to pass an exam and an interview ironically - and at 15 yrs I left the world of children and joined a world of adults. Up until then I had been dominated by adults - parents, teachers, police officers, park keepers.... but now I had to become an adult in a very short time. That maturing process was hugely important and valuable.

So, what the government are saying is that all youngsters should be directed into education or training to suit their own needs and circumstances. Some will stay at school until they are 18 yrs, others will leave school but go into apprenticeships or some other form of skills training.

My apprentice training taught me skills I still find useful today. It taught me how to analyse and resolve practical problems, how to use tools and machinery and read plans and drawings. Of course learning never stops and my 25 years working on the factory floor were maturing and rewarding. It was there that I learned about the importance of collectivism and joined the union. It was my involvement with the union that taught me about democracy and government and the need for political involvement - so I joined the Labour Party. From there I became a member of Gateshead council and rose to become Leader of the council prior to being elected MP for Tyne Bridge.

So, I fully understand and support what the government are proposing. Whether at school or in some other way, the important thing for young people is to find their place in life and develop skills to help them adapt and make the most of it. After that life will take its course.

Just opting out is no longer an option, that is no good to young people or to the society in which they will have to take their place.

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB