I watched the Channel 4 programme Child Genius on Thursday. As I am sure readers know, it featured somebody who comments regularly here, Mr Williams of Alton. I found the section dealing with his son quite depressing. The reason for this is that the situation with young Peter, who is fourteen, is very familiar to me. There are countless thousands of young people in the same position, although most of them are at school rather than being home educated. Let me explain.
All secondary school teachers have teenagers in their class who are not at all interested in studying for GCSEs. This is often because these pupils will not need GCSEs in their chosen career. They are going to be singers/footballers/DJs/models/dancers/actresses and so formal qualifications will not matter to them. They say, 'What good will knowing about Shakespeare be, Miss? I'm going to be on the stage/in the movies/on the football pitch'. The result is that they neglect their GCSEs, typically leave school with few or no qualifications and then end up wholly reliant upon state benefits. Because for every ten thousand teenagers who know in their heart that they can make it as athletes, pop stars, footballers or DJs, only one or two will actually get there and make a career of it. The rest will have to get jobs and earn a mundane living like the rest of us. The only problem is that they will in many cases have handicapped themselves by not securing any qualifications. This makes it far harder for them to get jobs and a lot of them will remain on the dole.
As I say, this is not really a home education problem, although I observe that quite a few home educating parents seem to go along with this sort of idea; that their children are very talented and will not need the GCSEs that all the boring masses are working for. For home educators, the children's goals are more likely to be computer programmers, novelists or chess champions. The end result is likely to be the same as it is for schoolchildren aspiring to be pop stars or models though; another NEET to add to the statistics.
This problem is not restricted to any particular class and, as I say, is probably even more common among schoolchildren than it is with those who are being educated at home. A career in musical theatre seems to be a popular ambition with middle class children at the moment. We have four friends whose children are aiming for this. They know that a glittering future awaits them on the West End stage! The outlook for these kids is not great. My wife works with young people in their early twenties, many of whom have no qualifications and are living in a half-way house while awaiting a council flat. She cannot get them interested in training courses or enrolling at college. This is because they are still waiting for the big break which will launch them into stardom on the catwalk or as DJs. Why would they want to brush up on their maths skills?
And so to fourteen year old Peter Williams. He hopes to be a chess champion some day. It seems fairly plain that there is no question of his doing any formal academic work or studying for GCSEs. Why would he? Once he is world chess champion, there will be no need for such things! The tragedy comes eventually for all but a handful of those hundreds of thousands of children who have dedicated themselves to making it big in sport, entertainment or chess. They find that they have devoted their lives single-mindedly to one aim and have nothing in reserve to fall back upon. There is nothing at all wrong with ambition; still less with having a dream. However, when everything has been invested in that one idea, then a day of reckoning awaits for the vast majority of such hopefuls. In truth, the market for drummers and guitarists, chess champions and footballers, singers and models is pretty limited. It is ten thousand to one against actually becoming a star and it is wise to make some provision against the day that this realisation dawns. A broad and balanced education culminating in a clutch of GCSEs is probably as good an insurance policy as any!