A lesson for us all

We have allowed a growing commodification of education, without for a second stopping to ask why and to what end

Let’s start with Kyle Gunn.

He’s 19, a talented young trainee journalist. He has recently completed his first level journalism qualifications at Glasgow Clyde College. He does the sort of thing that editors want to see. With an interest in sports reporting, he has interviewed footballers and managers and shown ability, appetite and proper self-starting ambition.

When he went to progress to the next stage of his course and gain a full qualification, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to get it. He has cerebral palsy and this prevents him being able to do shorthand. But it’s essential, the Scottish Qualifications Authority told him. And then closed the door.

Kyle Gunn embarrassed the examining board into beating a hasty retreat

They hadn’t reckoned on Kyle’s tenacity. He told his story, made it a national piece, gained the support of senior journalists, politicians and at least one football manager. He embarrassed the examining board into beating a hasty retreat. The National Council for the Training of Journalists who set the standard for qualification said they would “review” their assessment criteria. It took them several days to react to this.

There are several elements to unpick. The first is with journalism itself. It is a trade – not a profession, but a trade you learn by doing – that is under the cosh. The leader of the free world considers journalists who aren’t lick-spittle apologists to be the enemy. His is not a view that is unique. Journalists are increasingly met with suspicion and enmity.


Vendors buy magazines for £1.25 and sell them for £2.50. They are working and need your custom.

At times, we haven’t helped ourselves. But there are many, many great hacks across the land doing vital work – at local level interrogating councils about self-serving or knuckleheaded ordnances, or making those in places of national power and influence explain themselves when they’d like nothing more than to have no glare. There is a rainbow of other parts between.

But, we need new talent. And when smart, eager young people like Kyle Gunn (below) want to join the industry, we have to help, not hinder. Shorthand is useful. I like watching journalists use it. It’s a samizdat and it’s good to keep. But it’s far from essential. Technology is evolving at pace.

Kyle Gunn

The other part here is about education and what we’re allowing to happen to it. There are fewer things more important than education. Yet, our own families aside, we take so little interest that we don’t have a position until exam results come out. Then we mostly sniff that things aren’t as good as when we were young.

We have allowed a growing commodification of education, without for a second stopping to ask why and to what end.

The £9k per annum top rate for university fees will soon be eclipsed. Yet we still focus on that figure rather than on benefits or problems. Are universities the answer? Why keep insisting they offer the best solution rather than taking a step back and looking at tailored education needs for differing student abilities in an evolving world?

Why keep insisting that universities offer the best solution rather than looking at tailored education needs?

It’s only a matter of time before legal actions against universities from disgruntled students who don’t get the result they believe they have worked for become commonplace. Don’t blame the students. If we insist on charging for a service, that’s the outcome if the service isn’t up to scratch.

We need to go back further and further. Why don’t we value libraries in schools? The benefits of smart, full-time librarians are huge. We must fight to stop that expertise from withering . There are smart teachers, there are smart students, and there are probably smart administrators as infuriated by old-fashioned groupthink as the rest of us.

It’s time to pause and learn what is best for the future. Then do something about it.