When the GCSE results came out the other week I had a special reason to be interested as my daughter Polly was one of the anxious students waiting for them. As it turned out, she did very well, but I ended up listening to news coverage of the event which perhaps ordinarily I would have missed.
And how obnoxious it was! Despite a reassuring increase in students taking the more difficult subjects, and pass rates at all grades statistically no different from the previous year (nearly every media outlet seemed to report a drop, once again the direction deemed more important than the amount). Unless the numbers go up every year, apparently, none of us are happy.
When the steam (or hot air at least) had run out of these criticisms, people of my age seemed to be queuing up to appear on radio stations to tell today’s students that what they lacked was something called “grit”. We need to introduce a GCSE in Grit, they cried.
Grit. Really? This is the generation which has not had the grit to adequately tackle any issue which threatened the immediate earnings of the already rich and powerful, like climate change for instance, or a just tax system, either globally or even nationally.
But they are right in a way, because a generational war has been declared and the sooner today’s students wake up to this the better. We are not all in it together. The labels of “baby boomer” or Generation X, Y and Z are there to put us into economic camps (definitions vary, but I, at 50, am somewhere on the boomer-X boundary apparently, my children are Y and Z, or both Z, depending on the point someone is trying to squeeze out of the data). When they stumble out into the job market, today’s students risk having insufficient qualifications (because even when the numbers do all go up, employers cry “grade inflation” and pull up the drawbridge even further) for anything but a McJob, on zero hours contracts, or nothing at all, subject to youth curfews, ASBOs and acoustic dispersal devices. If they are lucky enough to be graduates they will have, in addition, a loan of at least £40,000 to repay. If they want to rent somewhere to live, they will be victim to an insufficiently regulated private rental market. If they want to buy, they are highly vulnerable to a property bubble being inflated for all its worth by George Osborne. It would be hard not to conclude that the rest of society had declared war on them while they were preparing for their gritless exams.
Meanwhile, the sense of entitlement amongst the boomers is frequently drowning out any other voices. Low interest rates are bad because they “attack” pensioners’ savings, and make annuities more expensive for those about to become pensioners. However this is just special pleading for one generational group. Low interest rates are good for making the Government’s money go further, and for spending on other priorities than the boomers.
Similarly high inflation is bad news if you’re a pensioner, and if your pension, as most are where the pensioner had a choice, is not inflation-linked. However, provided it is accompanied by earnings and economic growth, ultimately it is how a deficit burden, both private and public, is going to be shrunk most effectively.
The last thing Ys and Zs need is another 50-something lecturing them on what to do, but my plea would be that they don’t let these arguments be lost by default. The battle lines have been drawn. And I know which side I’m on.