John Walsh: Every subject is worthy of study at school – especially nailcare and horses

Notebook

Share

The current kerfuffle about "academic" and "non-academic" school subjects – on the difference between "proper" subjects like History and Maths and "soft" or "vocational" ones that lead only to "Mickey Mouse qualifications" – seems hopelessly misguided. Whatever the value or otherwise of their appearance on school league tables, vocational subjects shouldn't be casually dismissed by traditionalists. I want to make the case that almost all subjects (with the usual proviso about incest and folk dancing) are worthy of the concentrated attention of schoolchildren.

We're talking here about 14- to 16-year-olds, not older, serious scholars who need to focus every quivering strand of their intellects on A-levels or degree courses. For 14-year-olds to choose to study anything is a bloody miracle. If they immerse themselves in Tourism or Goat Husbandry for a few years, it doesn't mean they're wasting their time, or heading towards a rubbishy career. They are (we hope) flexing newfound powers of intellectual focus and concentration; they can always study the more classic subjects alongside the lighter alternatives; and whatever they study might act as a gateway into other, perhaps more serious, areas of inquiry after they're 16.

I think we don't appreciate what these allegedly rubbish subjects entail. A Level 2 Diploma in Horse Care does not mean the child spends two years doing nothing more than curry-combing, attending gymkhanas and collecting My Little Pony dolls. The City & Guilds course offers a firm grounding in horse anatomy, digestion and behaviour, plus stable management and learning to identify poisonous plants that grow in meadows frequented by horses. This is trivial? This is like the first year of a Veterinary Science degree with subsidiary courses in Animal Psychology and Scary Botany.

Or take the Level 2 Certificate in Nail Technology (tee-hee!) which has caused such hilarity. For this qualification, your mutinous teenager will do a lot more than buy Vintage Vamp varnish in MAC, gossip in nail bars or learn to use a file while chatting on the phone. On the contrary, she (I'm picturing a she) will become fully briefed on the history and culture of personal adornment, skin disease, nail disorder, cuticle trauma and salon management.

You call it the Chav's Certificate. I see it as a pre-A-level education in Epidermal Studies and Interpersonal Psychology.

A boy I know, aged 14 and at public school in Dorset, has just been offered the choice of doing a GCSE in either Greek Civilisation or PE. I confess I'm in two minds about this. The latter will involve him in studying applied human anatomy and physiology, nutrition and health – interesting, worthwhile areas of study.

The former will hurl the child into a reeking cesspit of venality: 1,300 years of colonialism, slavery, multiple god-worship and much sexual jiggery-pokery at the hands of elderly philosophers. To which would you more happily subject your child?

A prophylactic without honour

When the ANC celebrated its centenary in South Africa last month, 1.35m condoms were given away free as part of the Treatment Action Campaign, a leading Aids charity. It wasn't long before panic-stricken ANC members reported that the condoms had burst while in action, leaving their owners terrified of infection. The whole batch was called in and water poured into several condoms, which reportedly "leaked like a sieve".

What had gone wrong? I have no evidence. I merely refer you to Stephen Pile's The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures, which tells how the Society for Family Health in Johannesburg in 1999 distributed thousands of leaflets in English, Zulu and Afrikaans, warning recipients against unprotected sex and enclosing a free condom. Unfortunately, all the condoms had been attached to the leaflets with a staple gun...

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Patrick Cockburn: Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on