TW: self-harm, substance abuse

New commission, Cherwell Comment: **The Education system is utter garbage!** Eh, could be a tough crowd to sell this one to. Seems to be serving you Oxford élite quite nicely but I’ll have a crack anyway…

You lot can have as many A*s as stars in the universe, and yet, you could also have the emotional know-how of a potato and the education system would be none the wiser. “What are soft skills and why do I need them?” You ask. “Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence” according to So, ‘‘ you’re telling us the teaching of these skills was almost absent from our national curriculum back in school, but they’re now top of the list for employers and crucial to a functioning healthy economy in our fast developing technological boom? “Yes.”, says (somewhere). Well shit. Something’s got to change. We’ve neglected so-called soft skills for far too long now. In the ‘Age of Automation’ the job market is gagging for these, and also who wouldn’t want to raise a compassionate herd of younglings?

I wonder if not teaching any of this vital social understanding could impact the development of adolescents as they transition to adulthood; whilst they grapple with identity crisis, sex and messy relationships, hormones, alcohol, drugs, dependence, and rock ‘n’ roll. The cutthroat race to the top and fear of disgrace for performing below par is enough to make anyone’s stomach flip with anxiety. You might think “What has this to do with education?” Well, you know those pesky examinations we all get put through on a perennial basis. Many find when exams finish, it can feel like you’re a dead flower trying to grow back from its roots after a tough winter; once you gain the motivation for growing, and not self-destruction in the icy cold.

Grading is degrading. We are not cattle being sent for slaughter for some category ‘A’ red meat, we are humans. Help us come to terms with the additional pressure that exams and student life push down on us. A laminated A4 sheet of drugs and their silly street names does not constitute an education in dependency and the reasons for it – no doubt whoever claimed it did had just smoked a zoot.

A morsel of that emotional intelligence we forgot to teach might be useful for putting out the mental health crises that are presently engulfing the students of this nation; they’re going to burnout or worse. “Superficial success for some, pain and resignation for the rest” seems to be the message of the day’s ‘education’. What are we raising? The walking undead? Let’s let the stats speak for themselves: 50.3% thought of self-harm, 8.3% thought of it often, 44.7% relied on substances as a coping mechanism for emotional pain, 33.9% experienced a serious psychological issue they felt they needed to see a professional about, found a poll of 38,000 UK students in 2017.

Inadequate support is inflicting deep pain on young people and spoiling precious talent. Please, for the love of students, invest in some proper early intervention, thanks Boris. “70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age,” shouts the Mental Health Foundation UK.  Identifying and treating mental health problems early is key. This stuff is “virulent” like coronavirus in these times, as Stephen Fry put it.

This should be part of our education. Teach us to support each other, not to compete in some weird X-Factor-y shoot for the moon and miss but still be happy because you did ‘alright’ way. Competition is nice and all, but let’s mitigate the toxicity.

Why do you think these issues are so prevalent in young adults? Why is suicide the biggest killer of young men? Why do young women self-harm regularly? What a sad reflection on our society this is, a stain we ought to be ashamed of. Perhaps it’s time to sweep up the corpses, wipe the blood and tears away, clean up the act; educate beyond numbers and words, and provide necessary provisions.

Would be nice if the Department for Education could do something other than swap letters for numbers every five years. You aren’t fooling anyone, but you’re doing a great job of bemusing employers. You do you. It’s time for some reformation and investment in us youths. I want my kids (bold of me to assume I’ll have kids) to at least be able to understand I’m their dad, spell their own names and to make it past 25. Help us to be flowers, not frosty roots. How well is this education serving you? How are you and your mates feeling?

Educate yourself, because this system didn’t educate us. I don’t care if you’re left wing, right wing, part of some freaky centrist cult, or politics just ain’t your shit, this is important, please give it a voice. Break that taboo. Talk, shout, scream if you fancy. Whoever you are, happy right now or not, this will affect you in your lifetime.

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