Realistic Expectations

Lola Okolosie  voices the very thing that went through my mind when I saw this being mentioned on the BBC yesterday morning.

Teenagers in England who fail to achieve at least a grade C in English and maths GCSEs will have to continue studying the subjects from this term.

It means hundreds of thousands of youngsters in school and college will have to carry on with the subjects until the age of 18.

Employers have warned that young people need to improve these skills.

Oh my fucking lord! Once again we have politicians and bureaucrats completely out of touch with the real world. As Okolosie says – less frutily than I:

Some are able to pass on their second attempt. Others try three times and remain unable to gain a C grade in either subject. What, then, are we to do with those who may have successfully completed a post-16 qualification but are unable to gain the prized Cs in English and maths? Is their achievement rendered worthless?

There is a vast difference between candidates who attain a D grade and those that get an E or F. In better preparing students for the world of work and social relationships, we need to recognise that for some, attaining functional skills in both subjects is far more realistic and preferable.

Some people just cannot achieve these results. Putting aside any criticisms of modern education – even with a perfect system – some people just cannot achieve. Never could and never will, because that is not where their talents lie. Simply making them take and retake until they are eighteen will reinforce that failure. Far better they leave school and learn in a more practical environment. That is what my father did. Unable to achieve at school, he was able to develop his mathematical skills as a carpenter and joiner through his apprenticeship. He never did master English language and even today, written skills are a weakness. He is, however, functionally literate and that suffices.

Unfortunately we seem to have entered an age where we are all supposed to be clones all with the same skill sets and the system does not recognise the differences that exist between us.

Or, to put it crudely and bluntly as I did when seeing the BBC’ news item on Monday morning; some people are just too thick to achieve academic qualifications and nothing will change that. Some people cannot learn particular skills – what a colleague of mine would call a GNI (God never intended) when faced with a student who will never master the necessary skills to pilot a motorcycle so long as they have a hole in their arse.


  1. It all sounds like part of what seems to be a grand plan to maintain young people’s dependency (on parents initially, but no doubt eventually a role to be taken on by the socialist state) to ever-greater ages. Some people are, as you say, not well-equipped for academic education and others (myself included) may be capable of performing in an academic environment but dislike it immensely and would have left it at the earliest opportunity if permitted.

    Forcing everyone through school up to an advanced age – and pushing “university” as a primary school-leaver option – seems to be all about forcing conformance and preparing people for a homogenised desk-bound work life. True, there is less of a market than there once was for manual and manufacturing skills but one can’t help wondering if this is at least partly due to the fact that the governments of recent times have been hell-bent on ensuring few people acquire those skills whilst legislating against the industries that would employ them.

  2. I never say an O’Level maths because of my learning difficulties and Mathematical Dyspraxia Maths was a close book it wouldn’t matter if I had sat the exam for 100 years I would never have passed it.
    I eventually passed my English Lit and Lang by doing them orally with an amanuensis.
    But it was still a long hard slog and 2 years after everyone else in my year group passed theirs.
    If they did this to me I would have been suicidal, I already felt like a total moron this would just have made me feel even more ineffectual and dumb.
    I hate bureaucrats who think they know best.

    • Academic ability will inevitably be slowed by learning difficulties, but they won’t impede it completely. There are those, however, who just don’t have that underlying ability and never will. We are all different and have our own talents. I am hopeless at maths and always have been, but I can teach someone to ride a motorcycle and i am good at it. That is my talent. Sending me back, time after time, to achieve a higher maths grade would serve no useful purpose – although,actually, I did achieve a grade B at O level, so I guess I’m probably not a good example..

  3. “What, then, are we to do with those who may have successfully completed a post-16 qualification but are unable to gain the prized Cs in English and maths?”

    In the past they became geologists, why should this change?

  4. If I may bat on for a while about something I’ve mentioned before, this is (to me, at least) one more little step in that “creeping European-isation” that the EU is quietly and, mostly, unobtrusively pushing in their efforts to strip away all individuality and national pride from their nation states, thus (hopefully) replacing citizens’ national identity with their preferred, squeaky-clean European one. The UK A-level system is unique in the world. We are the only country where, at 16, having run the gamut of all the “compulsory” subjects – many of which you might be hopeless at or simply despise – you have the opportunity to drop all the ones which you loathe and specialise purely in the ones which interest you. In all other countries they have IB-style examinations covering a much wider range of subjects – necessarily at a much less specialist (for which read “lower”) level. This is all well and good if you are the kind of student who just loves learning about everything or who is so clever that you find everything easy, but it’s less good if you are the kind of student who is – say – incredibly skilled in science and maths, but completely switched-off by the more imaginative or subjective subjects like humanities or art, or vice-versa.

    One or two Europhile MPs have in the past mooted the introduction of the flashy-sounding “English IB” but the response from the education sector has, by and large, been unenthusiastic. Those who work with young people know that you get much more out of them when they are engaged and interested than you ever do when half the time they are sitting classes in some subjects just because they have to. Many of the private schools who jumped on the IB bandwagon have since reverted to the UK standard GCSE-then-A-level system for that very reason. And UK universities (still the best in the world, largely because, unlike schools, they are less susceptible to Government edicts and interference), still base most of their offers on A-level qualifications, because they recognise them as a useful first-step towards the much higher level of specialisation at degree level and also because they realise (unlike politicians) that it’s only when students are freed from the shackles of subjects that they neither like nor have any aptitude for that they are able to perform to their full potential. True, many of them do like to also see at least a grade C at GCSE in Maths and English, but not for all subjects (only for those where a severe lack of ability in either of those areas would be a distinct disadvantage) – and not if it’s taken a student up to the age of 18, five separate attempts and months of private tuition to achieve it.

    But then, the EU doesn’t like “individual,” does it? I’d predict that if they get this ruling squeezed into the curriculum, it’ll be shortly followed by similar rulings for History, Science, Geography, Modern Languages etc etc – i.e. this is the start of the English IB “by the back door,” because, let’s be honest, very few people are brilliant at everything, so most students would end up studying a pretty wide range of subjects right up until the end of their formal education. In other words, it’s the classic EU tactic of “If you won’t do as we want when we first tell you, we’ll force you to do it – but in stages.” Little by little, bit by bit – salami slice by salami slice – it seems that’s the EU way on those rare occasions that they meet with any meaningful resistance …

  5. Obviously nothing to do with education or reality but a great deal to do with holding down unemployment figures and a make-work for the more useless members of the middle-class.

    The biggest problem the working class have is the middle-class – forcing up housing cost, creating barriers to entry into employment, flogging off sources of large-scale employment and disallowing major industrial startups.

    • Nope. Don’t buy it. The “middle class” are not some homogeneous group with super powers to put up house prices or close down manufacturing. Everyone is an individual and responsible only for their own individual actions. The old class warrior argument is nonsense. There is no such thing as class even if people do like to cling onto the idea.

      • People are different – but do fall into groups – call it class or education or whatever, the groups exist. Of course the ‘middle class’ do not gang up on the ‘working class’ but the middles do the most voting and so politicos follow the incentives – no new housing/buy to let etc etc.

        The middles also make up the managerial group who also follow the incentives and outsource jobs – not our problem mate – but definitely someone elses. In the more hard-working parts of the EU factories are going up and their ‘working class’ has little problem. Tax and planning rules drive that process.

        Individual responsibility is fine so long has people have the basic equipment between the ears and are given an even playing field. But anyone who thinks ‘knowledge work’ and a scraped grade ‘C’ is a solution is either a fool, a liar or a politician.

        • Those groups only exist in the imagination of those who see them. Everyone is an individual and responsible for their own actions. Some people are responsible for what happened to manufacturing, some people outsourced certain jobs and some people voted for the politicians who enact policies. Those people were individuals, not some homogeneous group. To try and blame it on an artificial grouping is lazy thinking. I fall into your supposedly middle class grouping – although I do not recognise the label and refuse to accept its application – and I did not vote for them, I did not put up house prices and I did not outsource jobs.

          Individual responsibility is fine so long has people have the basic equipment between the ears and are given an even playing field.

          We all have the talents we are born with and it is up to us to make the best of them. Blaming a group that is an artificial construct is, again, lazy thinking and borderline socialism.

          • “I fall into your supposedly middle class grouping – although I do not recognise the label and refuse to accept its application – and I did not vote for them, I did not put up house prices and I did not outsource jobs”

            That is because, despite calling yourself “middle class”, you are not part of the bourgeoisie. You are not part of the class that owns the means of production and distribution. You are working class, just as I am am and most of Britain is. You must sell your labour to survive; and if unable to sell your labour, then you will starve.

            The social divisions between “middle class” or “working class” are meaningless trivialities. What difference does it make whether one likes wine or beer, watches football or rugby, or has Sky TV or not? What matters is your relationship to capital. As wages fall throughout the western world, and the middle classes discover that their corporate masters are happy to impoverish them, this essential truth will become clearer. Even some commentators in the Daily Mail are beginning to get it.

          • That is because, despite calling yourself “middle class”, you are not part of the bourgeoisie.

            Actually, I am not calling myself middle class. I am acknowledging that this is how others might see me. I don’t recognise class labels and don’t subscribe to them. Indeed, I will do all that I can to avoid giving them any currency whatsoever.

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