Year of reckoning arrives

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The future is here for daughters #1 and #2 and it has come around all-too quickly.

Plans that were dreamily made for some magic far-away land in the distant future are suddenly real, concrete and if all goes well, happening before their summer suntans have faded.

Their A-level and GCSE exams are this year – in around five months, to bring them into horrifyingly sharp focus. Revision plans have been drawn up, extra classes in a handful of subjects have been signed up for and scrawled notes have been stuck to bedroom walls.

University applications have been made, conditional offers have been received and incredibly detailed application forms have been sent in “Signed For” delivery to specialist performing arts sixth forms.

The blue touchpaper has been well and truly lit. Now we have to stand back and wait for the fireworks – and with two teenage girls in the same house under tremendous pressure, pyrotechnics can be guaranteed.

But whisper it, exams aren’t all that. Here’s an example. Last week my 1991 English degree came in useful for the first time when it got me just over £100 off a membership for Lancaster University Sports Centre (graduates, no matter how old and creaky, get a discount).

Seriously, that is the one and only time a degree has been of the slightest use and I’ve worked day-in, day-out on weekly, daily and national newspapers for the last 26 years.

Employers couldn’t give a stuff about qualifications, all they want to know is what you can do for them – which makes a 21-year-old’s degree in media studies, with its £50,000 price tag that they’ll still be paying off when they’re in their 50s, seem even more expensive than it actually is.

Honestly, you might as well spend three years in prison. You’ll learn a lot more about your chosen field and won’t be lumbered with a crippling debt.

Pub bores often go on about the University Of Life, and do you know what? They’re half right.

I learnt more in two weeks’ work experience at the North-West Evening Mail in 1991, with its smoke-filled newsroom and terrifying sub-editors – although they were grand once you got to know them – than studying for a degree.

And after they saw I wasn’t a complete idiot (on the job training was provided) they took me on.