I've never uttered these words before. In fact, I'm not sure anyone has, and our benighted secretary of state for education is usually the recipient of criticism not compliment. This has been doubly so in the last month or three as he struggles to do his most basic job: to have children attend school.
So why the turnaround? It's because he has abandoned the Blair government target of having 50% of English school leavers go to university.
This was always arbitrary and had a round number feel to it. There was never a justification for it, other than it was a good thing. I remember,ber thinking at the time: what about the other 50%? Who's thinking about them? And that question encapsulates the problem with the Blair policy – it ought to have been about 100% of the cohort in the sense of having a vision of how they, in divers ways, could continue to learn to the betterment of their own lives, and the lives of the rest of us.
But that has never been the case in the post-18 world. It's always been about sheep and goats. Even the very language illustrates the point: we divide the cohort into higher and further education. One encapsulates aspiration and greater achievement; the other more of the same. Inevitable, some say, in a society as class-ridden as ours. For higher read middle class; for further, working class. For a lot of parents, further or vocational education was out of mind and out of sight.
It now seems clear that this policy has resulted in a lot of young people having an inappropriate post-18 experience; one that has given them qualifications that are of little use for them in the workplace. The Times reports today that about 70,000 people every year would have been better off financially had they not gone to university, and that 34% of recent graduates have non-graduate jobs. That's not to say it will have necessarily been a complete waste of time, as, by and large, an educated person is more desirable than an less educated one. But how much better it might have been.
So, Gavin, well done. Only two cheers, mind you; the third (a rousing one) will have to wait until you sort the problem out for the 100%. A start has been made with the announcement of new higher technical qualifications from September 2022 to provide an alternative to miserable-value university degrees. Here's hoping ...