Jeff Breslin has an interesting piece today suggesting that many Sixth Year pupils and students in the first year of university are essentially marking time, and that valuable education resources could be spared by cutting degree courses down to three years in line with the practice in England, and by encouraging pupils to leave school a year early if they already have the prospect of a job or university place. I understand the point he's making, but it seems to me there's a contradiction there - one of the basic reasons for four-year degrees is to make up for the fact that students are essentially a year less advanced in their studies than their English counterparts, who (as I understand it) are generally not able to become first-year students until the age of eighteen. Under Jeff's blueprint, many students could be starting at sixteen and graduating at nineteen, which I'd assume most people would agree is pushing it a bit.
Of course, there's a double-whammy effect here, because Scottish pupils also start primary school a few months earlier on average than is the case in England. As my birthday falls on the 'wrong side' of the cut-off date, I started at four years and seven months old, which meant that - in spite of seeing secondary school through to the absolute bitter end - I left at the tender age of seventeen years and four months. I suspect if we want to get a better return for the resources put into education, it's this side of the equation we should be looking to reform first. Starting formal education early is bafflingly popular with Scottish parents, but it seems blindingly obvious that pupils would make more of their years at school if they both started and finished a bit later.
PS. I really must salute Jeff's ingenuity in illustrating his point about a 'double dip' loss of interest in education with a graph showing the changes in Californian house prices between 1976 and 2006!