THE BLOG

Is August Really the Silly Season?

17/08/2015 15:09 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 10:59 BST

August and silly season are words that usually mean there is a lack of "real" news and issues covered by the media are of minor importance.

But Summer coverage does seem to have the power to create myths and misconceptions that can last the rest of the year.

One this week and which is likely to be repeated next week: "Girls do better than boys". This refers to the numbers of girls getting good grades at GCSE and A level and going to university.

It is usually portrayed as either a good news story for girls or a bad news story for boys.

In the long term the news about exam results is neither of these. It is in fact a bad news story for girls and young women. It should read something like: despite working harder and being more successful at school and university women continue to lose out in the workplace. The gender pay gap remains, women are much more likely than men to be stuck in a narrow range of jobs many of which are low paid, and over 100,000 more young women than young men are not in any form of education, employment or training. If exam results are as important as they are made out to be, surely it would be young men who would be more likely to be NEET.

It might even be a good news story for young men. It could read something like: despite having lower qualifications and fewer degrees young men have the potential to earn more, have more secure jobs and be offered a much broader range of opportunities than women. Not much point really working hard at exam results then!

The other myth perpetrated in the stories that abound at this time of year is that everyone wants and should go onto university. The shots we see on TV are of young people jumping for joy because they have the grades they need to get a university place. This association has the effect of implying that degrees are the only route to success. It implies too that those who are choosing to go into Further Education, do apprenticeships or even to go straight into work are making second rate decisions.

I am delighted that the government wants to make it possible for more people to do apprenticeships. What will surprise many people is that many apprenticeships require good exam results. And yet again amongst young people aged under 25 it is men who are over represented in apprenticeships. At the moment over 50% of women doing apprenticeships are over 25 and they are in the vast minority in many fields such as IT. So I very much hope that the government will think carefully about how to make apprenticeships really work for young people wanting to enter the job market and how they can be given the same value as degrees.

Further Education also hardly gets a mention. This is another important route to vocational education and it can also offer a vital second chance to those who don't do well at school. These young people, and particularly young women who are more likely to have caring responsibilities, are at high risk of being written off at 18 if we don't give them a second chance and if we only pay attention to those who can wave their exam results in the air when they leave school.

So despite what we are hearing in the news, sadly girls are not doing better. Also news about young people is definitely not silly - and neither are they. Let's get the story straight