School, Grades and the Job Market

It is that time of the year again when our country’s children attain their GCSE results and have them paraded across social media and national news stations. The statistics show a dip in overall grade levels, predictable after Gove’s reforms increased test difficulties and altered grade boundaries. It is a time when many youths are likely distressed and upset by the results, only made more so by the news’ focus on those that achieved glowing A* results.

I want people to succeed and know all to well how devastating it is when you do not get what you worked to achieve. That being said though, I am left wondering if a different, more critical approach to grades isn’t the right answer.

Hear me out. Modern schools are geared towards very specific things and those things are attaining high grades. Schools teach children how to pass tests rather than how to be successful adults and they harshly push a narrative that presents grades as a be-all-and-end-all. Education is held up as the only path to success while any practical work is sneered at as a place for failures to go. I remember presentations in assemblies toting statistics about university graduates vs those who went straight into work after school and it wasn’t just pointing to massive wage differences but also life expectancy and relationship lengths. Not following the academic path to university was very much sold to us as a shorter, poorer life. We were never shown the alternative perception because schools want to keep students in academia.

Sometimes good things can actually be damaging and I feel that this is true of education. While wanting all kids to get high grades and move on to university is a great concept, in reality it doesn’t gel with how both children and the job market are. Not everybody fits with the academic path yet they feel forced into it as they are shown no alternative that isn’t presented as failure. It also effects how grades are perceived. With money, the more that is in circulation, the less it is worth. This is true of grades too. C used to be an acceptable grade, not special but a reliable indication that the person was capable. Now, many schools will keep pushing all students until they hit this C grade so that anything below a C is now seen as a failure. If everybody has a C then it suddenly has no value to employers.

This has also happened with degrees. When I was looking at going to university we were told that what we studied at university wasn’t important because just having a degree showed a strong level of dedication and intelligence. This is simply no longer true as a higher and higher portion of the population is attaining degrees. Degrees are no longer held as the gold standard of education by employers and students are seen mostly as drunken slackers. There are not the jobs to support all of the graduates yet at the same time we are seeing a lack of skilled labour, nurses and trade jobs which are requiring the hiring of trained immigrants to keep them afloat. How do we as a country manage to have such a problem with unemployment while simultaneously needing to bring in skilled workers from other countries? It makes no sense. Why aren’t we training our own young to fill the positions that we need?

There is also the incredibly damaging psychological impact of teaching everybody that they can succeed. This sounds horrible and I in no way endorse telling children that they are failures, but the simple fact is that most school levers will go on to work in shops, bars, factories and any number of other frowned upon trades because that is where the jobs are. Letting children believe that they are special and can do whatever they set their heart on and that they shouldn’t settle for “grunt” work, then immediately dropping them into adult life where the reality is so very different can only create a sense of failure. We work hard to get good grades, are trained to expect good work, then are left high and dry for the most part because the “good” work will always be in high demand yet sort supply. Even if every child got A grades and degrees, the exact same amount of them would end up waiting tables. There has to be a balance.

As somebody with a degree, (a 1st no less) who took fifteen months of searching to get even a temporary job in my chosen field, as someone who failed to get into university initially due to only having a C in English despite an A and B in other A Levels and having to resit and wait another year, I can speak for how hard the climate is at the moment. People who left school and went into trade jobs are currently in a much better position than I am. Would I change my path if I could go back? I don’t know. I certainly do believe schools should do a better job of representing different career pathways. Jobs should not be stigmatised and university should not be sold as miracle tickets to success.

Our children should be taught the skills they require to integrate into adult society not to pass tests. They should be inspired, enthusiastic and ambitious yet realistic. Getting a D should not make you a failure. All it means is that you can’t memorise and regurgitate facts from textbooks. It does not mean that you can’t care for the needy, build things with your hands or any number of other essential roles. Knowing Shakespeare might get you an A but it won’t help you with a job.

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