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Why University Isn't the Be-All and End-All

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So the A-level results came out last week, and since then, there have been dramas that pass rates are the lowest for years, worries that tens of thousands of students are still scrabbling through clearing for a university place, and tears that they didn't get the grades they wanted in the first place.

Well, can everyone just take a deep breath and stop right there? It's not as dramatic as people are saying. There's been a small drop in the success levels but it's not massive and it's not the end of education as we know it. And besides which, there SHOULD be a drop. Why would we expect it to keep going up and up and up and up? If everyone was super-intelligent, nothing would get done in this country!

Regardless of the grades, A-levels still have value. They show that students are capable of learning and that they have a desire to be disciplined in a learning situation. That alone says something to an employee. Just because they've got bad results doesn't necessarily mean they're stupid. It can just mean they haven't necessarily applied themselves. But employers aren't always looking at how clever the applicant is - it's the attitude, do they want this job, are they good enough, do they really want to make something of their life? Young people have to show some work ethic in the real world.

I left school at 15 - you can get your handkerchief out! Yes, I am one of those old farts who's going to tell you what it was like. I used to get up in the morning and do a paper round to get some money, I used to chop up bits of wood to sell, all sorts. But school and myself didn't get on for a number of reasons: one, I am slightly dyslexic. Whereas now that is accepted and understood, it wasn't like that in my day and not being able to spell meant you couldn't possibly pass exams. I was also something of a sickly kid, so I was badly bullied, and thirdly, no-one was any poorer than we were. When I hear about these beggars in the riots raiding shops because they've got no money, that cuts no ice with me. We had nothing and didn't go round behaving like that.

Add all that together and I walked out of school at 15 years old. There was nothing for me there. But I did loads of jobs - in the first year after leaving, I must have gone through about four or five jobs, which you could do in that era, walk in and out of jobs easily. You were only paid a tiny starter salary, a small proportion of what an adult would earn, but it was understood that was just how it was. But then I joined the Merchant Navy, and my life changed. I was 16 years old, I had my 17th birthday in New York. My education comes from my life. I've lived it!

I do talks now at Oxford and Cambridge, and I'm usually introduced as having a first class degree in life. Because of my experiences, I know I would have had no alternative but to work in the steelworks if I hadn't joined the Merchant Navy. By not having good results, it changed my life entirely by leaving me to make my own decisions to go where I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. The freedom of doing what I wanted to do was a great spur. Expectations of people who come away with great education standards are so high, that they very rarely turn into entrepreneurs for example. A lot of entrepreneurs become one as they haven't really got the education to do other things. That's where you find your Philip Greens, your Richard Carings, Alan Sugars and the Peter Stringfellows of his world - not that I'm in their league of course.

With A-levels, it's only a small first step in the rest of your life. Whether you've got an A or a minus C, it all depends entirely how you use that to go forward. It's only bad news if you collapse and give up. But you can show prospective employers that you've got more in you. When you turn up at interviews, show that you're willing to give your world over to create a success. And not many people are ready to do that.

Having a skill too is so important. Certainly if I had a kid who couldn't make top grades and had no chance of going to university I would say to him or her, be a plumber and make more money than the average person. The last time I used a plumber in London it cost me £3,000 pounds because my sink collapsed. That's got to be one of the best jobs around!

The minimum wage ought to be dropped immediately for apprenticeships too so you can have a professional taking on a kid and teaching them everything, which they can't afford to do right now when they've got to pay minimum wages.

The government needs to take the apprenticeship situation seriously. They need to give employers the opportunity to give young people the chance of work and not for free either. Because university shouldn't be the be-all and end-all for young people in the way it is today. And I'm living proof after 50 years as a success in the nightclub business - it just goes to show that ultimately, having the right A-levels doesn't have to matter. Cheers to that!

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