Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about a particular Year 11 boy at school. He’s being sensitively mentored by another teacher. He’s intelligent and capable of going to study at university and gaining an excellent degree in whatever subject he chose. The trouble is that he is adamant that education is pointless. Why should he achieve good results in his GCSEs and/or his A Levels? Why can’t he just be left to muddle along in his own sweet way? He has no desire to travel the world (or even leave Somerset!). He has no ambitions other than to rid himself of people constantly nagging him to push himself. It’s all very sad and he’ll no doubt look back in five years’ time and accept that his current views are somewhat ridiculous.
Having said that, the implications of the global credit crunch could yet make us all change our thinking. Parents, teachers and politicians have constantly been telling young people that a university education was the key to getting a good job. Unfortunately for today’s graduates, the world is no longer their oyster. In the words of the excellent article by Patrick Barkham and Polly Curtis in Saturday’s “Guardian”, they’ve been “floored by the sucker punch of recession”. The article highlights demoralised graduates unable to find work (“2:1s are not worth anything anymore because everyone’s got them”) and talks to influential economists (one of whom believes that 3million will be out of work by the end of the year – and warns about the long-term “scarring” if this new generation of unemployed people are out of work for more than a year).
This all reminds me of previous tough times (eg. in the early 1980s) when the construction industry, in particular, was very badly hit and my firm had to downsize and were unable to take on young graduates. Perhaps we’ve just become too used to the “good times”? For me, going to university was the best thing I’d done in my life up to that point and I certainly have no regrets. Would our daughters say the same thing? I’m not sure.
PS: Just don’t get me on to the subject of “hey, why don’t we keep all young people in schooling until they’re 18 (mumblings that the Government might even be considering such a move as early as THIS summer…. aaaaargh!)!


alan broadway said...

i didn't go to uni'. in part that was because at that time the system was fail your 11 plus and you were a 2nd class person and, for a male, working life was pre-ordained to be in a factory, using your hands not your brain, leaving bright young things to go off to uni, get a degree and become managers/teachers.

thanks to comprehensive education the system today is fairer and just because you fail an exam or test at 11 years old doesn't mean you don't get another chance.

as it transpired i didn't go into a factory, but was lucky enough to get an office job and my employer then paid for my education to continue at college on day release (plus 2 nights a week). ultimately...many years later...i got a degree in my specialism of building surveying. it was, as such, hard work, but didn't, monetary wise, cost my parents or myself anything.

i would encourage people to go to university if that was what they really wanted, but feel too many are 'pushed' in that direction and at the end of it come out with a 'meaningless' degree (and debt), and have still not been 'educated' to handle life.

making students remain at school until 18 will be a 'prison sentence' for some and cause disruption in the smooth running of a school. hand in hand with university education should be vocational courses to train you in a specific industry and you gain work (and life) experience whilst you learn...and get rewarded by pay. at the end of it you have a skill that is employable...not necessarily the case with uni graduates.

its sad that today the uk doesn't appear to make anything and one of our biggest exports is 'financial services'...whatever that is. i'm biased enough to recommend the government forget reducing vat by 2.5% and kick-start things by subsidising house building and supporting modern apprenticeships and skills training. construction doesn't just employ 'builders' but also material manufacturers - from metal to glass to wood - as well as civil engineers, architects, surveyors, cost consultants, estate agents, interior designers, solicitors, furniture manufacturers, landscape gardeners, grounds maintenance contractors etc etc. just think what that lot bring to our economy.

just Gai said...

I agree that it must be very frustrating to emerge from 15 years of formal education to the prospect of unemployment. However education should not merely be viewed as a means to an end but as an end in itself. Not everything I learned at school or university has been of day to day practical use in my working life, but all of it has helped to make me the person I have become. Learning should be both enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake, and its value not measured in terms of employment or financial reward (although neither of these are to be sniffed at). I despair of a system that educates children to achieve targets with little consideration of how it affects the individual. Fortunately there are still a number of teachers in our schools who feel passionate about their subjects and are a source of inspiration to our children.

bigdaddystevieB said...

Great comments you two (far more eloquently presented than mine)! Many thanks.