This is not the first time this has been highlighted. It prompted a question: do working-class children want to go to university? I know that I did not, despite achieving some Highers and coming from a white-collar background. I did not even particularly want to go to the senior secondary school even though I passed the 11-plus, in the 1960s.
I felt quite out of my depth socially and because my Highers were of lower grades, I was not encouraged by the school to go to university, for which I am grateful.
The rector was happy that my ambition was to be a nurse. (Nowadays a university education is, of course, necessary for nursing.)
But I remember a fellow pupil who achieved good Highers and whose father was a railway worker saying how angry the rector had been that she had no intention of going to university.
I can think of two classmates from my primary school from working-class backgrounds who were “cleverer” than I was. They did not enjoy the “elite” kind of school much either (despite one of them being given extra tutoring to ensure passing the 11-plus), and tholed it until they were 15, one joining the army and the other becoming a nursery nurse.
Presumably John McTernan’s father, the “lad o’ pairts” was more ambitious than any of us were, and that is probably the key to assess the suitability of those who should be going to university immediately after school and those who can find fulfilment in life, and paid employment without it. In this climate of lifelong learning, I would suggest that those who, like me, lacked maturity, would benefit from attempting university, with all the necessary skills, confidence and self-motivation that is needed, some years later.
And do we expect that the majority of children will have the academic ability to cope with university? Does the vast majority of the population have an IQ of more than 115?
I often wonder why university is seen as the passport to the best life can offer.
At the age of 61, I am now a part-time student at the University of the Highlands and Islands in order to study a subject of interest.
I think I have reached the age of maturity, but I still think I am more “technical college-type” than university.
Whether or not children are ambitious enough to go to university possibly depends more on inner confidence, personality, maturity and sociability rather than poverty or wealth.
Conon Bridge, Ross-shire
John McTernan sounds like just another middle-class leftist whose knowledge of the so-called working class comes from books.
The dogmatic world view that restricts his thinking assumes that children arrive in school as clean slates just waiting to be inscribed by dedicated teachers. This, of course, is nonsense.
It is absurd to consider education as if it exists in isolation from home circumstances. No amount of extra teaching staff are going to compensate for the absence of a positive home life.
Everybody knows this, but no-one is allowed to say so since it would be “judgmental”. So they pin their hopes on the latest myth of early intervention using yet more state resources – can anyone really believe that will overcome epidemic levels of absent fathers and the misuse of alcohol and drugs?
The great difference with the “lads o’ pairts” years ago was that they generally had only poverty to overcome, not abuse and neglect, and most would have two parents at home.
Mr McTernan rails against “rewarding those who have done well in life” but this is the class keeping the economy going, including producing the revenues that fund state education.
To prove my point, he inevitably ends with the last refuge of the bewildered by calling for “an open debate”.