Melissa Keighley: Stop those GCSE studies right now

My boy James is taking his GCSEs in a few months and he’s working jolly hard, so he tells me.

I am actively discouraging this.

I spent all my teenage years and much of my 20s sweating for a fistful of qualifications, none of which have ever done me the slightest good. Given that time over, I’d spend it having fun and making money, two pastimes of considerable if differing merit, rather than learning ancient Greek and swotting for the Oxford entrance.

I could have spent those years learning basic car maintenance, how to fill in a tax return, how to smile politely in the company of the loathsome, all valuable life skills I had to develop long past my prime, after some truly terrible blunders.

Thing is, kids, if you’re not from the right school, with the right contacts, the right accent, the right amount of money behind you, there really isn’t any point trying. I was sold a lie, and now they’re trying the same lie on James. Do your homework, study, pass every exam, pack your CV with extra-curricular achievement, it’ll all be worthwhile in the end – oh, please. I did all of that, and passed their entrance exam. But sending a poor girl from a rough school to Oxford is like sending a pig to a beauty pageant – whether it’s meant kindly or not, it won’t end well for the pig. Trust me.

For the working classes, education is a mocking cruelty.  It only serves to teach you what you can’t have. I wish to goodness I’d never learnt how to read or write: I was never going to amount to anything anyway.

Meritocracy is a nonsense, a story they tell you to keep you docile, wracking up student fees so you are forever at the mercy of our benevolent capitalist overlords, too busy grafting to realise how miserable you are, how utterly pointless the whole merry-go-round has proven. Stop, and think. Stop studying, for sanity’s sake, and actually think.

Don’t believe me? So why, then, am I not the editor of the Evening Standard? That prissy-faced privileged ponce they picked can’t craft a sentence, despite his expensive education. And yet, because of that expensive education, it really couldn’t matter less.


So, learn some life skills, James: go drink on the beach, hold back the hair of some vomiting girl: you’ll find her ever so grateful afterwards. Play your guitar, learn how to forage for the mushrooms and nettles we’ll be living on post-Brexit; perfect the art of the subtly filtered selfie.

But put down your books. It’s a con. A trick. You’re playing into their hands. Of all the bad habits you might ditch, hope is the most rewarding. The sooner you stop hoping for a decent future, the sooner you can get on with enjoying life.


1 Comment

  1. As a teacher I often hear pupils expressing the views of their parents. It is not uncommon for students to tell me that their parents left school without qualifications but “did alright for themselves” in justification for not listening in class, doing their homework or revising for a test. In my opinion, it is a mistake for parents to encourage their children to fail at school by boasting that they were educated in “The University of Life.” There is no such University. As Bob Dylan once sang: “The Times they are a changin’.” These days, even the most basic of jobs requires the applicant to have some level of qualification. At the very least, employers want some evidence that the person applying to work for them has been prepared to work when they were at school. My 22 year old nephew recently had to go back to school to resit his Maths GCSE. As a qualified plumber he was unable to access a course he needed to do without a GCSE in Maths. It was a humbling experience for him to sit in the hall resitting the examination which he failed when he was at school because (as he freely admitted) “I didn’t work hard enough. With the rise of automation, the job prospects for those who lack skills are rapidly diminishing. Once it was fashionable to threaten youngsters that if they didn’t work hard in school they would end up shovelling fries in MacDonalds. Now, those jobs are viewed as a golden opportunity. The world is full of people doing menial jobs, bemoaning the fact that they didn’t work harder when they were in school. It is a fallacy to suppose that the world of work is as it was when you entered the workplace and that your children will have the same opportunities that you did. It is already being projected that the current generation of 20-somethings will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents. There is every reason to suppose that the following generation will fare even worse. Education offers a route out of poverty. Fundamental skills in English and Maths are transferable skills which will be of value throughout a student’s life, and will provide the platform from which they can access further education and apprenticeships. Please don’t make the mistake of telling students that education doesn’t matter. It has always mattered and is more important than ever as we enter a new age of automation and artificial intelligence.

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