Sean O'Grady: What to do with our 14-year-olds

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The Independent Online

When Digby Jones says that disruptive 14-year-olds should be allowed to quit school and "go out and earn a few bob", he ought to know that this is not really what they want.

They should be kept at school – but allowed to choose their subjects. Teachers waste a lot of effort force-feeding their charges languages or science, for which the typical British youth has little enthusiasm. They ought to go with the grain and allow pupils to study performing arts, computer gaming software and media studies. Our creative industries would benefit.

This is unwelcome news to the industrial lobby, but I'm sometimes a bit sceptical about the current tendency towards fetishising manufacturing, and making children learn skills (through our still-rigid National Curriculum) that are labelled "relevant" and "valuable" but which aren't any such thing.

The world is changing so much that I don't think we can make a living the same way as we did before. We will never, say, be able to mass produce shoes as economically as they do in Asia. Yet, while the Chinese and the Koreans might get the better of us at manufacturing, they will never beat us at rap or graffiti art. Britain might even return to making television as good as the shows we had in the 1970s. As Pink Floyd almost once sang: Hey! Digby! Leave them kids alone!