10:50 Thursday 14th August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDIE HARPER: We’re talking about the alternatives to A Levels today, particularly if youngsters don’t get the grades that they hoped for and expected to get. Well it isn’t the end of the world, but what can they turn to? Well I’m delighted to say now that I can turn to Rupert Read. Rupert was the leading Green candidate in the recent Euro elections. He’s a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and he actually tweeted on our page that “University is brilliant. I love being a teacher at university, but the UK chronically undervalues vocational training.” Rupert, good morning to you.
RUPERT READ: Good morning Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: So obviously things fell into place for you, in terms of getting good A Level results, going to university, and now lecturing at university. So you have nothing to complain about yourself as it were. (LAUGHS)
RUPERT READ: No absolutely. And like I said in my tweet, I love being a university academic. I think it’s great, and great for many students. But it’s not a thing for absolutely everybody. And as I said again in my tweet, I think that we really give people the wrong impression, if we give them the impression that everybody ought to be aiming to go to university. There are lots of great things that people can do obviously, I think it should be obvious, by not going to university, including other forms of education and training.
ANDIE HARPER: We have heard from people today, youngsters and indeed older people, who made decisions not to go to university. And they’ve stuck by them, and they’ve done very well in their chosen employment. But there will be youngsters today who haven’t got the results they expected, and they will feel as if it’s like the end of the world.
RUPERT READ: Well absolutely, and I think again we bear a quite heavy responsibility as a society for making people think that way. We ought to learn from colleagues over on the Continent. In countries like Germany for example there is still a much stronger culture of apprenticeships, which in Britain is now really quite weak. If you have a strong culture of apprenticeships, then many people in many trades feel that there’s something valued and valuable about what they’re doing, and they don’t think of it as in any way second best to a university education.
ANDIE HARPER: Do you think it’s schools that are failing, colleges that are failing, because they aren’t pointing youngsters in that direction? And the be-all and end-all is to get three, four, five really good A levels and then get to the university of your choice?
RUPERT READ: Well that may be true, but I think the wider responsibility really is with us all as citizens, and especially with government and also businesses. I think too many businesses in this country take too short-termist a view. They don’t want to invest in people’s training in the long term way, in terms of years, not just weeks, that as I say, many companies on the Continent do. But it needs to be some kind of contract really it seems to me, between government, business, the educational sector and the wider citizen really. We need to try to reorient our priorities, so that we give young people the sense that there are many valid routes in life. We ought to have vocational training and apprenticeships taken really seriously and invested in seriously. As a Green I feel this very passionately, and as an educator I know full well that while university is brilliant for some people, it’s not brilliant for everybody.
ANDIE HARPER: Some people listening might say well why are we worrying about people who fail their A levels, because these days most of them get these fantastic grades, and there is a perception that they are getting easier to achieve. As a university lecturer, do you perceive that, that A levels are easier to get, and these wonderful grades, A* and the like?
RUPERT READ: Well two points Andie. First point is I do think that that has been to some extent true in recent years. But the second point which is absolutely crucial is that changes have been made to A levels this year, and many A levels have been made tougher. One reason why some students will be sitting there today with grades that are not as good as they expected is that their A levels may be made tougher. I have to say I think that is, while tough on the individual students, a good thing. But we do have to make sure that there isn’t grade inflation. We do have to make sure that an A level nowadays means the same as it did twenty or thirty years ago. So I think that a good line in the sand is being drawn here to make sure that standards don’t slip.
ANDIE HARPER: So what advice would you give to youngsters who perhaps haven’t been told too much about the alternatives when they were at school, vocational training and the options apart from going to university? Who do they turn to?
RUPERT READ: Well people need to explore their options. There may be options for example at local technical colleges, if those exist. Or people can try to negotiate with employers, or of course they strike out on their own. But as I said Andie, I think that really we can’t put most of the responsibility for this on young people. It’s a responsibility that we in the older generation, if you will, have. And it’s a responsibility that ultimately falls to government.
ANDIE HARPER: Rupert, thank you very much for getting in touch with us via Twitter, and it’s been really good to talk to you this morning.
RUPERT READ: Thanks Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: That’s Rupert Read, the leading Green candidate in the recent Euro elections, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, based in Norwich where I had my very first proper job. When I left school in 1966, I have to hold my hands up and say with pretty dreadful A level results, I went to work at the University of East Anglia, on the outskirts of Norwich. I hated it. It was the six worst months of my working year. being a waiter was a joy compared to that. I hated it. So I didn’t stay in the librarian business. On the other hand, there’ll be a lot of people who did.