ENGLISH students should be free to quit school when just 14 years old, the country’s former chief schools inspector said.

Sir Chris Woodhead – who now heads the company behind some of London’s premier private schools – said it was a “recipe for disaster” to require young people to continue to study English and maths at school or college until they were 18 and said they should be free to leave school and dedicate themselves to a trade four years earlier than the current limit.

In an interview with The (London) Times, he said it was a mistake to make vocational education “quasi-academic” and accused the Government of a “Utopian” approach to school standards.

“If a child at 14 has mastered basic literacy and numeracy, I would be very happy for that child to leave school and to go into a combination of apprenticeship and further education training and a practical, hands-on, craft-based training that takes them through into a job,” Mr Woodhead said.

Referring to recent riots throughout England, he added, “Does anybody seriously think these kids who are truanting at 13, 14 are going to stay in school in a purposeful, meaningful way through to 18? It just seems to me the triumph of ideological hope over reality.”

Mr Woodhead was chief schools inspector from 1994 to 2000 and is now chairman of Cognita, Britain’s biggest for-profit schools company.

He has backed Government plans to boost reading in primary schools using synthetic phonics, saying that 95 per cent of children should reach the literacy target at 11. The current figure is just over 80 per cent.

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