Editor-At-Large: Schools should teach the three Rs: reading, writing and reality

Share
Related Topics

Politicians made young people so many promises – education, education, education – and yet a whole generation has ended up with very little. Latest figures show that nearly a million people under 25 are unemployed. Even worse, 600,000 haven't worked since leaving school.

Coincidentally, as these shocking statistics were made public, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, unleashed another attempt to reconfigure the national curriculum, with the aim (I suppose) of making the young more employable. He claims that standards of literacy and numeracy have plummeted (true) as schools have focused on too many compulsory subjects. Gove wants maths, English, science and PE designated core subjects, and a review will help decide what should be added. He has hinted that modern languages and history are preferences.

The biggest losers in our education system are white boys from lower income groups; 44 per cent leave primary schools without a decent level of literacy. Mr Gove is right to focus on basic maths and literacy – up to secondary school age. Then he must be realistic. We have to prepare children for the work that is available and appropriate. If they can't read and write properly by 11, any lessons at secondary schools are of limited use. Forcing all kids to study history and French won't make any difference to their work prospects.

Our current problems stem from how kids leave primary school and what their aspirations are. They are immersed in a culture where some of their peers earn a lot of money singing, dancing or kicking a ball. Sadly, most jobs are dreary and repetitive. Historically, most young people left school, worked in shops and factories or trained in apprenticeships. Young girls got married, had kids and did part-time work.

Now we've got a massive gap between what they want and what's available. Only a third – 100,000 – of new jobs created last year went to British-born workers. School leavers need to compete equally against young, well-qualified competitors from other EU countries. Which means a massive change in mindset, and I doubt that being able to recite a list of Tudor kings and queens will be much use on that score. Mr Gove should work with kids to shape their unrealistic aspirations into something employable.

Secondary education must reinforce the basics, but also cater for the majority: pupils who won't be attending university. The removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance will affect the number of poorer kids staying into the sixth form. It's no good moaning (as one columnist did) that they should "get a Saturday job". With the recession, there's massive competition for any work.

The Prince's Trust and the RBS produced a study which estimates that the vast number of unemployed under-25s cost the Government £155m a week in benefits and lost productivity. I know plenty of bright, personable school leavers who are reduced to working for nothing. They should be learning more practical skills, funded by a government grant which replaces the EMA. The focus of education must be matching dreams to reality – and stretching each child to achieve their best. History and science won't do that.

Is this the only way to express yourself?

I've derided Venus Williams's weird idea of fashion in the past, but having read Andre Agassi's astonishing autobiography I feel more sympathetic to her mindset.

Venus, still ranked at five in the world at the age of 30, attracted ridicule last week when she played a gruelling three-hour match at the Australian Open wearing flesh-coloured pants under a dress with a yellow top, a lattice-work midriff and a brightly printed skirt. The player claimed she was inspired by Alice in Wonderland – sadly, critics thought she looked like a cheese and onion slice or an apple pie. Both Agassi and Venus were ruthlessly trained by their fathers from a young age and programmed to spend all their time competing. Agassi explains why he wore those horrible shredded denim shorts, the ludicrous jewellery and the mullet hair. It was the only way he could think of to express himself. He had to do all his growing up on the court.

Venus is exactly the same, and after years of playing at such a high level her body must be really feeling the pain. She must be desperate to find another career – but I don't think it will be in fashion.

Not sweet on the Candy eyesore

Proof that money doesn't necessarily buy good taste, the flashy apartment block unveiled at a glitzy party in Knightsbridge last week will win no architectural awards. The grandly named Number One Hyde Park is the latest luxury project from the audacious Candy brothers, who got into so much bother with the Prince of Charles over their plans for the development of Chelsea Barracks. In person Nick and Christian Candy are charming company, but is this building, as they claim, "an iconic landmark"?

Sadly, their architect has let them down; it looks like an office block. This is a very noisy site, straddling Knightsbridge and Hyde Park. Who will want to sit on a balcony facing Harvey Nichols? Maybe only Patsy and Eddie from Ab Fab.

Nice way to waste money

More than 300 council workers in West Oxfordshire (where Mr Cameron lives and is the local MP) have been ordered to attend lessons for an hour each month on how to be nicer to each other. To show just who they don't get on with, they have to move pebbles around in the "Even Better Place to Work" lessons – which must constitute a light load for the refuse collectors and street cleaners taking part.

The council's chief executive claims that these classes will raise morale and the £30,000 exercise is "a small investment to support staff". Shame he's just made £755,000 worth of cuts to public services. Perhaps workers could bring their own pebbles next month.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Robert Fisk
It is often not perceived to be very 'feminine' to study maths, physics and engineering  

The deafening silence on the Government's industrial strategy is ominous

Chuka Umunna and Vince Cable
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent