GCSE results: The young need help, not condemnation

Does Nick Hurd even know what ‘grit’ is? The situation ‘Neets’ are in is not their fault

Share

Out of the crop of youngsters receiving their GCSE results this morning will emerge the inevitable stories of the over-achievers: the super-brainy kids who get 17 A*s, the 12-year-old with the highest mark in the country for maths. Nowhere in the coverage, however, will we see the child whose results paper is not such a constellation but instead a list of Ds and Es.

What future lies ahead for these 16-year-olds? If the door to A-levels and university is closed to them, then there are vocational courses and thousands of apprenticeship places. But a growing number will find themselves shunted into a siding labelled Neet – not in education, employment or training – a group which is now estimated to number 1.09 million.

It cannot be a happy place, to be not only out of work and education, but also to be bracketed in this way. Unhappier still, then, to be accused by a minister of lacking the “grit” to get off their backsides and find work. It is unfortunate that the minister in question is Nick Hurd, the son of a former foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, and a fourth generation MP and an Old Etonian. Mr Hurd junior received a hammering on Twitter for his remarks. If his Conservative colleague Greg Clark, the Treasury minister who is the son of a milkman from Middlesbrough, had said the same thing, the scope for Twitter’s opprobrium would be drastically reduced. Mr Hurd is an easy target because of the school he went to.

Does Mr Hurd even know what grit is, beyond the brick dust that flies during the Wall Game? Perhaps Mr Clark would not accuse today’s youngsters of lacking “grit” because he knows what it takes to rise from a humble background to the heart of government, rather than naturally blending in to the world of Whitehall?

Mr Hurd can do nothing about the family he was born into. We should not hold his upbringing against him. But just as it is not his fault which school he went to, it is not the fault of a typical young “Neet” that they are out of work, or have failed to get good enough grades to do A-levels or go to university. When a child is not a straight-As student, or does not excel in another way, say at sport or music, it is too easy to lack the confidence to argue their way into a job.

This is partly the fault of teachers focusing too much attention on those predicted Cs or above at GCSE, to improve a school’s position in the league table, and allowing the stragglers to slip down the grades. But it is also the fault of an education system for championing the high-flyers while ignoring the growing group of youngsters destined to become Neets. We cannot all achieve A*s, but to get Ds and Es at GCSE should not be a mark of future failure. These children will have other skills and talents that can be coaxed out of them.

It is Mr Hurd’s choice of the word “grit” which is so offensive, of course. To say that a person lacks grit suggests they are missing a gumption gene, that they are pathologically incapable of work or learning, which is just not true. Far from lacking grit, it takes sheer guts to want to continue in education when your school thinks you’re not good enough, just as it takes courage to carry on looking for work when you’re getting knockbacks from employers because your CV isn’t right and you mumble and sit with shoulders slumped in interviews.

No, it is not grit that these youngsters lack, but prospects. There may be jobs and apprenticeships out there, but many are short term, on zero-hours contracts. With the decline in manufacturing has come the rise in semi-skilled, high-turnover work which offers little bedrock for a career.

If the outlook is bad for Neets, the situation for today’s university graduates is also grim – one in 10 fails to find a job within six months of graduating, and for those who do find work, many are behind a bar or in other posts which do not require a graduate’s nous. The tragic case of 21-year-old Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt has exposed a culture of punishing hours for those trying to compete for lucrative City jobs. Across the spectrum, the picture is bleak. Now there are signs of a property price boom; this is pushing a first home for young people further out of their grasp.

It would be fanciful to suggest an easy solution to improve an entire generation’s prospects, but there is a way to help under-achievers – and this is where Mr Hurd and I would agree. Schools should teach “soft skills” such as confidence-building as part of the national curriculum, to give any child a fighting chance. At Eton, they don’t need to tell pupils to hold their heads high – it just happens. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t possess the wherewithal, the skills, the grit, to succeed – we just need to be told we can do it. If the child of a foreign secretary can make it to the top of government, so can the child of a milkman from Middlesbrough.

Twitter: @janemerrick23

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore