Wolf at the Door

Alison Wolf has published her report into further education and it’s pretty refreshing. Not only does she criticise FE institutions for piling on a load of qualifications that don’t mean anything in real ‘job’ terms because they get paid by how many qualifications they put students through, she also focuses on apprenticeships and how useful they can be to both employer and teenager.

There’s a couple of things that seem a bit odd – the removal of the work experience requirement between the ages of 14 and 16 because of lack of placements appears to me to have another solution – make businesses offer placements – and asking kids of 14 to make the life-altering choice of whether they continue in academia or go to a technical school is quite pressured. Who the hell knows what they want at 14? What if they haven’t been taught the thing that they might be amazing at, like philosophy or psychology? Do they risk being labeled a thicko if they choose the technical school because they want to be a social worker? And isn’t academia kinda about academia rather than getting a job?

But these are essentially subjective questions. Each teenager is going to be different, and I like that she has recommended that people can go to the higher education they felt they missed out on later in life if they change their mind.

I also agree that English and Maths should be studied for as long as possible – but probably not in an academic way. English and Maths GCSE are, quite frankly, of no real use in the ‘real world’ – yes, reading is awesome and should be encouraged, and yes, ratios and fractions are handy for simple things like cooking, but not many people need algebra in their daily routine. Do you need to know about Sine and Cosine in your day job? I know that I use some stuff I learned in English GCSE in my day job, but I work in communications and I need to know about language – and even I don’t say Caesura, I say pause in the speech, because that’s more understandable.

What they should be taught, as these are life skills, are mental arithmatic – how to calculate the tip on a bill, what it means if you’re getting something for 20% off – and spelling and grammar, because if one more person uses ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’, I might flip out. Spelling and grammar not only gives others a better impression of you, they make what you say more understandable, and they create less work for me! I think grammar should be compulsory until they can write an essay using the correct forms of its and it’s.

But I digress, for I  am a bit crazy about grammar. Sorting out the technical and vocational further education in this country seems emminently sensible, as we need highly skilled plumbers, electricians, engineers, carpenters and metalworkers. We also need social workers, nurses, teaching assistants and hairdressers. And teenagers need jobs. It makes sense to give young people the skills they need to supply us with services we need, because that’s how the world works. They get paid, we get nice hair and cupboards, and thus the world keeps turning. Academia is not for everyone – I bloody hated it, apart from the leisure time in which to drink, but what I wanted to do wasn’t technical or a vocation, so off I had to go to Uni.

I just really hope this doesn’t lead to a whole bunch of Tories like this one, sniggering about how they don’t need the French of Moliere, they need the French of business. What a fucking wanker.


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