There was a running joke in the Test Match Special commentary box during the years in which it was graced by legendary England fast bowler Fred Trueman.
As soon as Fiery Fred clocked in for a shift, the rest of the box would go out of their way to tease him gently about the state of the modern game.
The aim was simple: to get Yorkshire’s finest to utter one of the trademark phrases of belligerent bemusement for which he had become famous. As soon as Fred obliged – with a caustic “I just don’t know what is going out there” or an exasperated “I just don’t know what they are teaching them these days” the rest of the box would erupt with laughter.
Fred – undeniably England’s greatest-ever fast bowler and a man who was never short of a dash of self-confidence – would not bat an eyelid at such gentle mockery. Because there was one thing of which he was resolutely certain: things were better in his day and the country was going to the dogs.
As the great man himself once said: “We didn’t have metaphors in our day. We didn’t beat around the bush.”
Listening to some of the comments at the annual conference of the Federation of Small Businesses this week, you would think Fred had now been proved conclusively right. The state of the British education system – and the way it fails to help small businesses – was a particularly popular theme. Schools are turning out increasing numbers of pupils who don’t know how to dress for work, don’t have the necessary literacy and numeracy skills, and are simply unprepared for life at the office, critics say.
National policy chairman Mike Cherry even went so far as to claim it was the most serious issue facing the 20,000 or so companies the FSB represents.
“While we welcome moves to increase the scope and number of apprenticeships, a lot more work has to be done around the needs of employers and workers,” Mr Cherry said.
Really? So schools should, essentially, become factories for producing oven-ready workers, ready to step out into the brave world of work in every way?
Don’t get me wrong. There is clearly plenty of scope to improve the careers guidance and training given in schools and a fundamental part of the education system must be to prepare youngsters for what lies ahead in their lives.
So of course pupils setting off for work experience should have a basic idea of how to dress and the standards of behaviour expected of them in the workplace. And we must ensure that our education system teaches our youngsters the skills they need to compete and thrive in the modern workplace.
But do we really want a state education system which is purely geared towards churning out huge numbers of worker ants ready to do their bosses’ bidding?
Our youngsters are – by and large – leaving school with more qualifications and a better general education than ever before. So by all means prepare them for the world of work.
Just don’t do it at the expense of everything else.