McD steps in to help with McJobs

TELEVISIONS come skinny as wafers, telephones are multi-function affairs the size of matchboxes, satellites take close-up photos on Mars, but the dinosaur of an education system lumbers on like a relic of a dark and distant past.

TELEVISIONS come skinny as wafers, telephones are multi-function affairs the size of matchboxes, satellites take close-up photos on Mars, but the dinosaur of an education system lumbers on like a relic of a dark and distant past.

Hanging on like a broken antique, generations of teenagers have been written off by the one-size-fits-all GCSE system demanding they learn and churn.

If they can't churn, if their memory can't decipher a truncated spur from an oxbow lake and one equation looks much like the next, they're deemed too thick for recognition by the system.

So they're labeled dim - or rather a politically-correct term meaning the same thing - and get lost somewhere between infants and juniors in primary school and arrive at high school with “underachiever” stamped on their record because of their ropey Key Stage 2 Sats results which pushed their schools down the league tables.

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At high school they're dumped into lower sets for supply teachers - the regular ones are usually off with stress - to struggle to keep order, with a GCSE syllabus flapping somewhere in the daily mayhem.

If they're lucky, the school might offer these kids a vocational course at college - a glimmer of hope and encouragement that they might be deemed good at something.

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But they still have to struggle through a GCSE syllabus, frustrated and confused, so they bunk off school, clown around when they do turn up, tell themselves they're failures because the education system tells them they are and get spewed out at 16 feeling a “dimbo” who is good for nothing.

They're demotivated, disillusioned, with no self-esteem, confidence nor a certificate to show for anything. Hardly a triumph for 11 years in a so-called proven system. No wonder kids hang around the streets thinking they're rubbish.

Meanwhile, children in the top sets are awash with facts and theories they'll never need again to prove a mind able enough to go on to academic A levels and higher education.

Ask employers if they're getting the new recruits they need from the school system and they'll laugh in your face. Only this week, 52pc of bosses said they believed school leavers at GCSE level struggled to communicate.

So this week's announcement that Gordon Brown wants more young people to do apprenticeships and McDonald's is the first company to be able to award nationally recognised qualifications for a training scheme should be celebrated from the rooftops.

At last. Appreciation, encouragement and value for practical and vocational skills. Pupils who want to become plumbers, brickies, burger bar workers, even should never, ever feel inferior to those with the God-given aptitude for the GCSE and traditional A level route. But they do, because school makes them, from their early years.

Long the butt of jokes about McJobs - “do you want fries with that?” - the company is showing their staff -and the nation - their staff are worth investing in.

They're offering them the practical qualifications and skills they left school lacking and will give them qualifications - perhaps their first ever - on their CVs to boost their self worth.

Useful skills to benefit their future and employers, not a list of GCSE failures to drag them down for life.

I spend a lot of time with teenagers who have been so broken down by their school experiences - and teachers' nasty comments - they see no point in trying to learn more. Cajoled into a vocational college course, with extra help and encouragement, they flourish in their chosen skills and key skills like reading, maths and writing, and grow in confidence.

They move on to apprenticeships and full-time college courses, often unrecognisable from the 16-year-old who arrived, gaining qualifications, motivation and self-worth as they go, wondering why their school days had to be so dreadful.

Every teacher who taught those children - albeit in a flawed system - should be ashamed they failed them. Education isn't about statistics and success of the brightest, it's about self-development of every child and teenager, those tens of thousands of so-called failures. Try telling them that.

So power to McDonald's for mopping up where the system has failed, to Gordon Brown, if he puts his money where his mouth is and blows the trumpet for apprenticeships and the companies who see the true value in young people's potential and not just what they achieved at school.

That just leaves the teachers. These, I fear, will be the toughest nut to crack.

DAVID Cameron wants to send his daughter to a state primary in September.

But not just any state school - a Church of England school several miles from his door and further away than 12 other schools.

And school linked to a church where he and his family started to worship some time ago.

Who knows what came first: His fondness for that particular church or the associated school.

He just wants the best for his children, like we all do. He might believe the dozen closer schools won't offer the best for Nancy. I too exercised the right to choose for my sons and sent them to an out-of-catchment primary school, but a non-faith school.

Many people - people I know personally - have seen fit to lie and even change or “rediscover” religions purely to get their children into decent schools. They become fanatical about it.

That's for their conscience to deal with. And the conscience of the clergymen who sign their forms after a family has parked their bums on his or her pews with their pre-school or rising 11 children for a year or two.

It might be done in desperation and in the child's interest - but is that justification for dishonesty? Dishonesty involving a child.

If Mr Cameron is ever prime minister perhaps he will use his frustrating quest for a decent local school as the catalyst for change for those thousands of families who have no choice but use the nearest school because they don't have the sway, know-how or eloquence to do anything else. The people he alleges to represent.

I POPPED into our wonderful local butchers on Monday to buy a free-range chicken for a one-pot roast.

Had their chicken sales been affected by the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall / Jamie Oliver battery farm TV roasting, I asked?

Not at all, said Mark the butcher. Quite the reverse, in fact. At 9.30 on Monday morning there were only two chickens left. He couldn't get hold of supplies fast enough as they flew out the door.

Shoppers obviously voting with their purses against the £2.50 supermarket battery chicken, preferring to pay more to a traditional butcher who knows where his “happy” meat comes from.

British people always come up trumps in support of animal welfare - but also to support their local businesses if a threat looms. People power - never underestimate it.

IN 1958 our staple diet was robust and included roast beef, bacon, egg and fried bread, meat and two veg, jam, cakes, pastries, tea with two sugars and sweet sherry, according to the 50th edition of the Office for National Statistics annual Expenditure and Food Survey.

Today we eat chicken, fruit and organic muesli, sushi, blueberry muffin, skinny latte and New Zealand sauvignon because the food and diet “experts” and marketing people tell us to.

They would have us believe we'd all meet with an early grave if we ate like people did in the 50s.

But there are plenty of hail and hearty pensioners going strong today in their 70s, 80s and 90s-plus who have stuck to the 1958 diet they grew up with and swear by it still. Proof that food fads are just a lot of guff and it's fashion, not health, that drives our shopping habits.

THE jokes about congratulating Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for at last getting so many police on the streets of London last week have worn thin.

But the 22,000 police who proudly marched past Westminster demanding more pay - managed to make themselves figures of fun.

Most interviewed looked like they'd just left school - or perhaps I've reached that age when policemen start to look young enough to be my sons - and, rather than being enthusiastic about an exciting new career, moaned on and on about their pay. A decent salary for most 21-year-olds.

And what were those white baseball caps about? Dressing up like the criminals and louts that plague the lives of communities up and down the country isn't exactly the way to engender sympathy in the population.

Nor is swarming the streets of London when an on-duty policemen is an elusive object, except when he races past in a car. Never there when you need them then, enough off-duty to form an impressive demonstration.

How many of those parading were officers signed “off sick” with stress, I wonder.

Hoodies for the next march? They've nothing left to lose.

IT'S revolving doors Britain. Nearly 700 Britons moved abroad every day last year - a record 250,000.

The number of immigrants arriving here is more than double that - more than half a million in 2006.

A sort of grand house swap - or rather population recycling - with Brits fleeing the misery of their own shores for better lives in their droves while those arriving from Poland, Portugal et al believe they've found utopia.

Strange old world.

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