Yesterday’s biggest news story was that only 18% of teenagers have an after-school or Saturday job, compared to 42% in 1996. It didn’t really surprise me. A lot more has changed in the last twenty years than people realise, not only within economics, politics and society, but also within the education system. Having been in the education system since the late-nineties, and going to university in September, I think I’m in a fair place to comment.
I know every generation says this, but school is a lot harder now than ever before. There’s a lot more pressure to do well what with universities demanding better grades (the lowest grade you can receive to go to a ‘red brick’ university is BBB at A-Level), the economic downturn and lack of jobs have also made it more important than ever for teenagers to start thinking seriously about what career path they want to follow, and schools also provide an awful lot more work to be done at home.
I know every generation says this, but school is a lot harder now than ever before.
The last four years of my school life (first year of GCSE study to Upper Sixth) were spent swotting up on coursework, doing coursework, learning Spanish essays off by heart to re-write in a ‘controlled environment’, reading numerous English Literature books, revising old subjects for re-sits, writing personal statements…the list goes on, and that was just work set by the teachers. On top of that, we were pushed into the dreaded ‘extra-curricular’ activities. I was certain I wanted to go to Drama School at one time, which meant spending six hours a week after-school in the theatre (up to twenty–four extra hours during productions) and having to go in on a Sunday afternoon for dress rehearsals and such. I was certain I’d get into University having been through all that. We were then battered into taking part in the Duke Of Edinburgh scheme which, for those of you who are lucky enough not to have had to do it, meant driving to the wettest, windiest, stormiest part of Wales for a weekend, walking miles a day and then sleeping in a bloody tent. We were ensured this would guarantee we got into the university of our choice…but oh no! On top of that, you also had be a ‘Captain’ or ‘Prefect’. In other words, boss around the younger pupils at school to turn up on time to their netball match/ singing rehearsal/ science club meeting after school. As parents will know, telling a 13-year-old what to do never ever ends well. But, we were ensured that by doing this, we were ‘guaranteed a place at the university of our choice’.
It was all a lie. It wasn’t until I started looking around universities at the end of Lower Sixth that the professors told us “All we care about is that you get 3 A*s”. They didn’t really care that I’d gone to North Africa for a week and painted a school there, they didn’t care I’d raised over £1,000 for Charity. To them, it was just another sentence in the personal statement.
You also have to remember that tuition fees for university were only introduced in 1998, and even then it was only £1,000 a year paid by your parents. These days, there is so much competition to get into a good university as, at the end of it, you’ll have to pay £27,000 for the ‘experience’, so you need to make sure you’re doing the right course and that you’ll get a good job at the end of it.
You’ve also got to remember that very few companies will actually employ a ‘minor’ or someone who’s still at school. I spent multiple Sunday afternoons walking around towns, handing in my CV to numerous restaurants, clothes shops and supermarkets, and I never received a single reply. As soon as they saw that I was still at school, my CV went straight into the bin. Their opinion was ‘Why pay to train someone up when they’re off to university next year?’. Or maybe they’d been put off by school kids getting a weekend job, only to quit a couple of weeks later as it was taking too much time away from their studies.
I did eventually get a Saturday job when I was in Upper Sixth, working two hours a week looking after some children. I was desperate for some money and didn’t want to have to spend the summer penniless. It was brilliant and a lot of fun, but it wasn’t until I left school that I got the most out of it. I was able to be at work and not be stressed about having to get home and do more studying. I learned a hell of a lot more about myself in the following year after I’d finished my A-levels than I ever did whilst I was there, and that’s why I think it’s so important to encourage teenagers to take a gap year. You don’t have to go away to some far-flung part of Asia, loaded with a Lonely Planet book and get malaria just because it’s ‘all part of the experience’. You could get a job as a waiter, a librarian, a childminder; it doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing something you enjoy and gives you independence from your family before you go away to University.
You’ll be surprised how much you learn from it.