You might be persuaded that the record number of students accepted by universities announced yesterday should be a cause of celebration.
But whether this new admissions record will be reflected in a generally more educated populace is a moot point.
Students from the University of Wolverhampton heard speaking on the radio a few months ago suggest not. They sounded more like they’d walked off a building site than out of a university library. Even the writing of Cambridge English undergraduates is devoid of syntax and grammar, according to one don who spoke to me a couple of years ago.
So are our graduates any better ‘educated’ than their forebears who left school at 14 a hundred years ago? Finding my gran’s school leaving exam report the other month made me wonder. I was re-shelving some of my late father’s classic and theology books when a sheet of yellowed and crumbling paper fell to the ground. It was his mother’s school leaving certificate. A humble confectioner’s daughter born in 1874, she had been educated, for free, at Sheffield Central School. This plain grey-haired old lady I remember, with her sweet hammer smashing rock for us, had left school at 14 back in 1888, but, I learnt to my surprise, with a clutch of top school leaving passes in French, English, History, Maths, Bible Studies and Latin. It made me think.
Who was the better educated I pondered? My gran or the Wolverhampton students, whose command of English was conspicuous by its absence and who had even less Latin.
In an age obsessed with the idea that more equals ‘good’, what these admission stats really represent is disguised. As well as the promise of meaningless qualifications they also mask an astonishing gender gap in university enrolment – one both the Government and the universities seem quite indifferent to, and that barely made a headline last week. Over a third of all 18-year-old girls sign onto higher education in Britain, but only a quarter of boys . The lower down the social scale, the wider the gap gets.
So what I hear you say. Aren’t boys better off not drinking and drugging their way through three years of higher education at the expense of long-term debt? Aren’t they better off getting other skills and a head start in the world of work? Were it so, then fine. That’s if the ugly gender gap didn’t mark young people’s employment too. Among men under the age of 25, 17.8 per cent are unemployed, compared with 13.9 per cent of young women . School no longer works for boys.
Teaching discriminates in favour of girls. More girls teach, further discriminating against boys. It’s a vicious circle. It’s the same with medicine. It matters not that the NHS needs more doctors, it still trains more women, though over their career lifetimes they commit fewer hours, work more part time and give fewer overall years in return for the taxpayer’s investment in their education. It is bonkers.
We are glutting the education profession with women, who like doctors, are not just less committed – demanding more family friendly treatment (but the same income) for the investment in them – but not what boys and especially fatherless boys need.
Ideally, the value of education should not be judged in narrow productivity terms but the Alice in Wonderland feminisation of higher education is such that we now have to. When you learn that it means even a 5-year-old infant starting year one is no longer guaranteed a dedicated teacher for her class, it is time say enough is enough.
All around the country this September will be infants finding themselves the guinea pigs in a (female) teacher job share experiment. Don’t please anyone tell me that this is a good arrangement, least of all for a first year at school.
The growing gender divide at university level is nothing short of disastrous. It is a product of an over-feminised school system and curriculum and an over preoccupation with gender parity. Mary Curnick Cook, the head of UCA, alone has warned of this. She has said schools are failing boys. She is right, whether or not the 80,000 more girls completing UCAS applications than boys reflects a lack of aspiration in boys or an educational deficiency in them.
I simply cannot believe that the male psyche does not possess a desire as strong as its female equivalent to achieve high levels of academic success – an idea posited in this report here. It is not my experience of my sons and their friends. Go to any old fashioned all-boys school and you can smell the competition and aspiration in the air.
But outside the independent sector, boys have discrimination against women in the ‘STEM’ subjects rammed down their throats. All they will hear is how unfair it all is. All they will experience are ‘pushes’ to raise girl numbers. By contrast, none will be the beneficiaries of corresponding campaigns to encourage them to take up these subjects, despite the known shortages of doctors, engineers and physicists. All I hear of is triple A starred science A level boys failing to get into medical school.
If George Osborne wants to improve productivity in this country he needs to take a long hard look and start to promote his own sex.