For many young people ‘study hard, work hard, go to university, get a job’ isn’t reality

The media and political debate over grade inflation and Michael Gove's proposed GCSE reforms disguise how difficult it is for young people in today's struggling economy.

Alexzandar Swatton  writes on a number of issues, both for this blog and others. A recent politics & sociology graduate from the University of Sheffield, Alex is a former business proprietor and a life-long, active member of  the Labour Party.

So the thrilling annual media-fest of opening envelopes live on TV and the incessant debate over grade inflation are at last coming to a close, but as the attention dwindles away Michael Gove continues his onslaught, seemingly determined to leave his mark in the history books.

Before the dust settled over this year’s paper-tearing the government seemed to hail the reversal in top-grade achievements as a success; somehow a trend of increasing pupil success was treated as a failure. Despite repeated and ever-louder demonstrations from teaching unions and education professionals the divisive minister continues an unwanted overhaul of the examination system and a return to outdated practices.

Much like the unwarranted reorganisation of the NHS, the proposed privatisation of a profitable public run railway franchise, and the inevitable disposal of a successful Royal Mail everyone should ask just what is the point of this meddling? If pupils aren’t already deflated by claims their qualifications are not of sufficient worth they now face a Britain with employment uncertainty and ever-narrowing chances.

The old adage of ‘study hard, work hard, go to university, get a job’ sounds more like a fringe-festival joke in the shadow of 2.5m unemployed and ever-increasing youth unemployment. If study and hard work pay then why do the government fail so miserably in making it feasible? Why do they proclaim that falling grades this year are a success rather than a manipulation to satisfy political ideology?

As I try to imagine being a fresh faced 15yr old about to sit my GCSEs I ponder how I might choose my path in today’s Britain. To do this, as a model pupil and citizen I must seemingly accept certain ‘truths’:

  • I must be good at mathematics or science – as obviously any other subjects or creativity are pointless and do not add to the country, its GDP, or its economic focus
  • I must be good at exams  – as of course these are just like real life and everything should rest on one 2 hour period to determine my future outcome
  • I must accept ever-rising university fees and debt – unlike the policy makers who got where they are via free education
  • I must accept working for free on ‘Internships’ and ‘Work Experience’ as apparently actually getting paid is unnecessary. I must accept this is useful to social mobility
  • I must accept the unchecked advancement of zero-hours contracts
  • I must accept stagnant or, in real-terms, falling wages
  • I must accept working the longest hours in Europe
  • I must accept the daily commute- to -work costs rising above inflation and wages every year
  • I must accept rising rents and spending more of my earnings on living and energy

The above is hardly a great sales pitch by any standards, but put in such a way it highlights the ridiculous plight of today’s young people – no wonder the country is stalled.

Bias in the exam system, a return to Victorian teaching methods, and mockery of current achievements is hardly the way to progress a nation back into being a world leader. Rather than chasing their place in history Gove and his fellow cabinet ministers should listen to the professionals and not enact reform just for the sake of headlines. Rest assured however the same old debates and live envelope opening ‘news articles’ will appear in 12 months’ time; let’s just hope for the sake of our future the results they achieve are at least valued.

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11 Responses to “For many young people ‘study hard, work hard, go to university, get a job’ isn’t reality”

  1. Stephen Wigmore

    Can the nonsense. Rampant grade inflation helped nobody. Just like rampant money inflation doesn’t make people richer. I was in secondary school 2001-2006, I could see the deliberate year on year reduction in exam standards so idiots like you could trumpet higher grades as some kind of ”success”.

  2. Old Bloke

    In which year did you notice the rampant grade inflation? Was it in 2001 when you were in year 7? Were you given the resources to conduct an informed comparison of GCSE results from their introduction in 1988 to the year 2001 and in so doing, compare them to the last year of ‘O’ Levels in 1987? Or did you wait some time before collating and appraising statistics that made you realise, even as a pupil, that there had been a year on year reduction in exam standards. Presumably, the 2006 exams were especially rigorous? Or were they so debased by then that grade As were awarded to anyone who could write their name on a paper?
    Or maybe you are doing what we all do when school has become a dim and distant memory: namely, slag off the present in order to gild the memory of our achievements in the past. In which case, the very dim and distant past should have been a true golden age. Then again, maybe not. I did ‘O’ Levels over 30 years ago. They were pretty crap exams and the mark schemes did not reward success; grades were awarded by percentage as in, the top 5% (say) got an A (no matter their score), top 15% (say) got a B etc. GCSE grades are awarded by achievement (yours too). You get the mark, you get the grade. Nowt wrong with that in my book.

  3. Sids666

    ” Why do they proclaim that falling grades this year are a success rather than a manipulation to satisfy political ideology?”

    probably for the same reason that manipulation to satisfy political ideology led to increasing grades and was proclaimed a ‘success’.

  4. Interpreter

    That’s what you took from this article?

  5. Jacko

    Why don’t they just award the top 5% an A, the bottom 5% an E and so forth. This is what they always used to do. In that way it doesn’t matter how difficult or simple an exam is.

    It also mirrors life, whether you like that or not. Getting a job is not about being an excellent candidate. It’s about being beating other candidates. This is what many young people don’t appreciate. Out in the real world, you are competing with everyone else for scarce resources. At school, that’s not the case. Everyone, in theory can get an A*. That premise helps no-one in the long term.

  6. Jacko

    ‘Alex is a former business proprietor’. Now, if that statement was on a CV, my bullshit detectors would be going wild. Do you mean he set up and ran his own business? Or do you mean he was a trainee manager in a clothes shop? I suspect something closer to the latter.

    ‘A lifelong member of the Labour party’. What is he, an old man? Or was he signed up at birth by his parents?

  7. Smithy

    Actually it started under last Labour government. Think about it. Did schoolchildren suddenly start getting more intelligent or did exams become easier? What is the more likely explanation?

    When I was at school in 1985, the highest marks that pupils achieved in mock O levels, as they were then, was about 80-85%. And this would be achieved by 1 or 2 kids in a class of 30. This was consistently the case across all subjects. This year my son did his mocks, and the top marks were 95-98%. And I don’t mean just one person, 5 or 6 students achieved this. So the difference is about 15% easier in absolute terms, and an increase in the numbers getting the top marks by roughly double. So my very rough estimate is that exams now are 30%( 15*2) easier than when I did them in 1985.

    The worst thing about this is that these kids think they’re geniuses, that they can take the most challenging tests that life has to throw at them and score virtually 100%. When they get out in the world they are in for a shock. Because whilst exams have got much easier, the world is a much more brutal and competitive place than 30 years ago.

  8. Alexzandar Swatton

    Actually I owned my own bar and sports venue at the age of 25.., so turn off the slightly damaged detectors of yours!

  9. Psychjim

    ‘study hard, work hard, go to university, get a job’ never held true in any year! Kids have always been labelled by the areas they were brought up in. (Even before Thatcher’s “right-to-buy” scheme in the 80s, which planted the seeds of the ‘sink-estate’ where people ended up if they couldn’t afford to buy no matter what the ‘discount’.) Education has been used as some sort of marker for successive governments for generations. The one saving grace for my generation was the trades apprenticeships. For those not so academic there was the possibility of a life-long trade. “Time-served” young people could at least hope for a better future doing ‘proper’ jobs, not sitting in call centres annoying anonymous people for a pittance. Nor stacking shelves and shuffling trolleys for the local supermarket. We no longer encourage skilled and semi-skilled trades because our manufacturing base is in India, or Bangladesh, or some other Third World sweatshops. Academia still, and has always, favoured the middle and upper classes. There’s an old, old saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts!” And that’s as true today as it’s always been. The myth that “anyone can reach the top” is just that – a myth. How much room IS there at the “top”? There are millions of young people dropping off the market stall because there’s nowhere for them to go! Not because they did well, or did poorly, in some exam.

  10. John

    I’m in my last year of Uni, studying business. After all my loans and grants came though at the start of September £2900, I paid my Uni rent, and was left with £500…By the time of paying for travel card, food, kitchen appliances (cutlery), Uni books, folders, and smart clothes for a job interview, I was left with £0…Mad! Point being it’s incredibly difficult to do my work whilst stressing about money and getting a job and my grades are definitely going to fall because of it. Then what’s my future career look like in today’s economy…sh*t !

  11. Nicholas Larsen

    There are no nations. There are no governments. We’re all being played by obscenely rich old people who pull all the political strings. They don’t want people to be successful, they want people to spend all their time and energy working to pay the bills so that they can’t oppose the people at the top who are making things worse for everyone else.

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