'What is two and two?' 'Are you buying or selling?' - Small child and Lew Grade

At a time when young people up and down the country are opening envelopes to find their exam results, prompted by Lord Jones, who was Trade Minister under Gordon Brown, I have been considering the state of education. Lord Jones has been advocating that unruly pupils should leave school at 14 to go straight to work or undertake apprenticeships. His thought is that it would be better for all, including the economy, if they could be in the workplace rather than staying in academic life for which they are not suited. On the face of it a great idea.

Except there aren't apprenticeships, there aren't jobs for them, and there is no manufacturing industry. They would need to go to China or India to find the low-skilled work that he advocates. As it is 20 per cent of 16-24 year olds are unable to find work. I then went on to look at literacy statistics amongst children. There seems to be some mystery about the facts and figures. With all the testing that is done in schools I can't see why this should be. Unless some big brother doesn't want us to know the parlous state of education. Thousands of London 11-year-olds start secondary school with a reading age of seven and it never improves. One in three teenagers reads two books or fewer a year. I was surprised it was that many. Seven per cent of children never read outside the classroom and there is a cycle in the home of illiteracy. Yet almost half of young people have a social network profile and two in ten have their own blog, both of which require some skill in reading and writing and a certain enthusiasm. Let me be really old and say that when I was at junior school in a not particularly privileged area I don't remember children being unable to read, nor do I recall disruption. I think the mistake stemmed later from the belief that a university education was the passport to success and that anyone who 'failed' to get a place or was clearly never going to be a candidate was a waste of space. Little wonder they behaved as such. There is no easy answer. But it certainly doesn't lie in the endless changes that are imposed on schools and teachers, or treating non-academic children (the vast majority anyway) as criminals, or in a veil of secrecy about the facts. My Father, in retirement, taught illiterate adults. One of his pupils was thrilled to pass the written paper for brick-laying. Sadly he failed the practical.

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