”Each year thousands of young people, who have left school at 16 without English or Maths GCSEs, undertake a child care level 2 qualification at college. But when they achieve this they are not yet qualified to work in childcare. For that, they need the level 3 qualification. If they don’t have the Maths GCSE required for this, then they simply leave and become unemployed.” The speaker was Richard Brooke, former Director of Strategy at Ofsted, speaking at the Fabian conference education debate this month. His point was that our young people are often badly advised on options available to them.
However I was thinking something else: Why do young people need a Maths GCSE to look after young children?
Who decided that to take care of a 5 year old, it is really important to be able to solve a quadratic equation or calculate the angle on a triangle?
It is an absurdity.
We are talking about adults working with children up to the age of 8. Now there is an argument that some basic numeracy is sometimes needed (eg, helping them with basic arithmetic and times tables). But I have never come across a parent who said “what I really need in the carer for my child is a good understanding of algebra and geometry”.
If you discuss this requirement with parents they will say it is bonkers. But question it at events like the Fabian debate and you will be accused (as one questioner was) of "not supporting the Standards agenda". And not supporting the standards agenda makes you an outcast in polite educational society. The fact that you can't see the point of requiring skills that are not needed in a job is interpreted as having too low expectations.
Maths GCSE includes many elements that are crucial for those going on to study Maths, Physics, Engineering, Architecture, Economics, Computer programming and many other courses of study. However of the majority of the population it includes a lot of elements that are never used in later life. When did you last use trigonometry?
In my working life I run a training business. And we never ask for a Maths GCSE when recruiting staff. Never. Our administration staff do need some numeracy, to be able to calculate VAT on prices and understand key metrics in the business. So we test for those skills (or the ability to learn them) but we never ask for the GCSE. As in most jobs, we simply don’t need the skills that are tested in that qualification.
As a governor of a Hackney comprehensive I encourage and challenge the school to get as many young people as possible through Maths and English GCSE. And its not for the league tables. I know that achieving those qualifications will, in our society, make a material difference to their life chances. But what I don't know is why so many careers require not just numeracy and literacy but GCSEs that include skills that are not needed in these jobs.
Sixty years ago far fewer jobs required qualifications, even for the professions. Journalists might have worked their way up through the local newspaper, lawyers through the article route, or even accountants by starting out as a bookkeeper. And one result (because poorer children, then as now, achieved less qualifications at school) was greater social mobility.
Is it really so radical and off-the-wall to suggest that when a job requires a specific qualification, it should cover skills that are actually needed in that job?
Henry Stewart | Chief Executive | Happy Ltd | 07870 682442