As a teenager I was constantly being told how important qualifications were. Getting the right number of O-Levels, choosing the right A-Levels, and, if possible, getting into your first choice university.
My mother also banged on about doing extra-curricular activities ‘because it will look good on your CV’.
Consequently, I worked for a couple of years at the local hospital radio every Sunday afternoon, playing terrible songs to sick people and trying to encourage them to play bingo for the grand prize of a flannel and some soap. I don’t think that this has ever come up at an interview. And I have never wanted to work in a radio studio anyway.
Children are so closely monitored at school that you can trace their progress from reception to school leaving age with a series of numbers and letters that, I have to admit, I still can’t remember what they mean.
Is 4a better than 4c? And is a nine-year-old child at level 5 good, average or below par?
Why does my son’s school measure it differently and without a note of explanation? So he gets a III for English – what does that mean?
Then there’s the ‘reading age’ nonsense. I just received an email from my son’s school saying that his reading age had improved by three years and three months in the past year. How is that even possible, especially since his reading was pretty good anyway?
I know I should be pleased, but I can’t help but feel that all this monitoring is not about each individual child, but how the school looks to inspectors and prospective parents who scrutinise the school’s results table. It’s simply box ticking.
So although I understand that qualifications show a certain level of achievement and ability, what a child does outside of school probably is more useful when seeking their ideal job.
These days I do think that young people need to stand out above the rest when they apply for college or university places, or in the troubled job market.
When our children will be interviewed for jobs in the future, it’s not their reading age that will matter, but whether or not they can demonstrate an interest and understanding in the field that they have chosen.
One of my daughters wants to work in wildlife management, or similar, so as well as doing three science GCSEs, she is also a youth ranger at Queen Elizabeth Country Park and actively reads about the subject.
My son wants to be an animator, so we are encouraging him to do plenty of drawing, and to keep them carefully in a folder for future use.
What we do with our younger daughter who wants to be a farmer, an author and on Britain’s Got Talent, I am not sure yet. But I think I might try to encourage her towards the first two, rather than the latter.
Of course, once they are of an age when they are looking for a job, they may have changed their minds.
My older daughter might decide she would prefer to be an accountant. But the fact remains that they would have demonstrated an interest and passion for something other than school.
And that ticks many more boxes than qualifications and educational milestones.