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education professionals the divisive minister continues an unwanted overhaul of the examination system and a return to outdated practices.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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