Young Britain: Schools failing to teach about the real world

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The Independent Online
Young Britons are a generation obsessed with education - its inadequacies and its possibilities for helping them get on in life. But the overwhelming view is one of disappointment - 63 per cent believe that schools do not prepare people for life in the real world, a figure that rises with age.

Francesca Jacobi, 25, from Richmond in Surrey is typical of those who look back with a sense that education let them down. She is unemployed having graduating from Sussex University two years ago in Applied Psychology. ``I think school just taught me to go and get a good degree, but didn't say anything beyond that,'' she says.

University did not do much more in setting her up for the working world. ``At university I didn't know where to start in terms of planning a career. And I didn't get much help. I just had no idea what I wanted to do. I went to teach English in the Czech Republic when I got my degree. But when I realised, after coming back, that I didn't want to teach. I felt completely stranded.''

Raekha Parsad, 24, an English graduate, agrees. ``At least at the comprehensive I went to I had to learn how to compete with hundreds of other kids from all sorts of backgrounds. That was a good preparation for life. At university we were cocooned. When I finished I felt that I was totally lacking in skills.'' Ms Parsad is now a reporter on the Big Issue.

Educational disillusionment is much higher among those from poorer backgrounds than among the university-attending middle classes. Only a quarter of those with no formal qualifications felt that school had met their expectations, compared with two-thirds of those who had a degree.

More than four out of five young people think vocational training should start at school. As one17-year-old unqualified man from Devon on work training told the 2020 study: ``You go to school for 11 or 12 years of your life and they feed your brain full of all this shit, which, when you get into a job, you think, `what's the point in that?' I mean there are things like general maths, but after that you start going into RE and environmental studies, even English, I mean, Shakespeare! It doesn't seem relevant. I've forgotten everything that I learned at school. They're teaching the wrong stuff."

There is overwhelming agreement (90 per cent) that learning does not stop when you leave school, although the majority (55 per cent) blamed poverty for young people not going on to further education. As tuition fees are introduced for students, this figure may alarm ministers who are hoping that the numbers in tertiary education will continue to rise.

Young people regard class sizes to be less important than having an understanding and enthusiastic teacher. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, under pressure to raise education spending, will, however, be heartened by one result: up-to-date books and resources are a lower priority than good teaching facilities and a wide range of subjects. Good sports facilities generally rank very low, as less important than flexible options for exams.