Starting at 22, Britons have talent

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor

On average, they cited 22 as the age when they found their niche in life and
were able to use their talents to gain a lucrative career.

Nearly half of those surveyed felt they were regarded as average or poor
students while they were at school.

Of these, 15 per cent said they never got the chance to discover their talent
in the classroom because their teachers had written them off as failures.

The adults in the survey are not alone, says the report from Edge ? an
education foundation dedicated to improving the quality of vocational

Many celebrities and famous people ? such as Home Secretary Alan Johnson,
comedian Paul Merton, actress Sarah Jessica Parker and celebrity TV chef
Jamie Oliver ? left school as failures.

And, if the figures are a true reflection across the country as a whole, it
would add up to 2.8 million adults feeling they had been branded failures at

The research comes on the eve of the premier of a new documentary, We Are The
People We?ve Been Waiting For, which is the brainchild of Oscar-winning film
director David Puttnam.

Lord Puttnam, who has been an education adviser to the Labour government, said
the film was meant as ?a wake-up call?.

?If our schools are to keep pace with the needs of a very rapidly changing
world, the ways in which many of our young people learn must be transformed
? most particularly by harnessing the incredible power of technology,? he

The film highlights how many young people in today education system are still
being allowed to ?slip through the cracks? ? struggling through a school
system which, it claims, has not changed in the way it delivers education
since Victorian times.

One of those who takes part in the film, Stephen Harflett, of Swindon,
said:?Lessons weren?t really catering for me.”

?I just couldn?t do the reading and the writing and spent most of my time
looking out of the window.”

?I came out of school with just one CSE to show for it.?

It was not until he was 22 that Stephen, now aged 46, took the life-changing
decision to seek further qualifications and obtained a City and Guilds
certificate which enabled him to work as a gas engineer that he managed to
develop his talent.

He is now a company director of his own firm and ? a few years ago ? was
earning enough money to take time off to build his own home.

Andy Powell, chief executive of Edge, said: ?It?s demoralising for young
people to spend years in an education system which does not value their

?Many recover and find success while others never do.

?It?s simply not good enough that young people are falling through the cracks
and labelled as a ?poor? or ?average? student because their potential is not
being fulfilled through traditional academic teaching.?

School failures who blossomed later in life include:

Alan Johnson: The Home Secretary was orphaned at the age of 12 and
brought up by his older sister. He left school at 15 and became a postman.

Damien Hirst: His art teacher pleaded for him to be allowed to enter
his school sixth-form which he left with an E grade in art and was
subsequently rejected by Leeds College of art and Design. A subsequent
application proved successful.

Jamie Oliver: The TV chef is dyslexic and did not excel at school. He
left with no qualifications and then went on to catering school.

John Major: Left school at 16 with three O-levels ? subsequently
gaining three more through a correspondence course. Asked as prime minister
what he had got at school, he answered he ?couldn?t remember?.

Paul Merton: The TV comic failed his 11-plus and famously received an
unclassified grade for his metalwork at CSE.

Sarah Jessica Parker: The US actress said of her time at school: ?I
failed in school in lots of ways, academically but also personally. If I
could fix those things I would. They do linger and I do recall them and I
wish I could fix them.?

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