Those who know me at all well will be aware of my deep-seated and passionate loathing for the education system, at least in England – I hope it is better in other cultures, and I’m fairly sure there are some where it does not inculcate a contempt for intelligence. Where else is the word “clever” an insult?

One thing that riles me is the assumption that the only way to become educated and knowledgeable and civilised is to stay at school for years and years.

I left school at sixteen, my sister and parents left school at sixteen. We were about as educated, civilised, intelligent, knowledgeable and well-read a family as I have ever met. My grandparents left school well before sixteen, the three I knew were also intelligent, knowledgeable and well-read. All of us could follow a logical argument, and behave in a rational way. We all read books for pleasure. None of us was stupid, coarse, brutal, or wilfully ignorant. My parents gave me a thorough grounding in poetry and Christian theology, which neither of them studied formally. My mother’s father was an engineer’s patternmaker, an immensely skilled job I couldn’t do in a million years – he did an apprenticeship. My father was a chartered accountant – he started at sixteen as an articled clerk.

Somewhere the idea got in that everyone must go to university – whether or not that style of learning was what they were suited to, whether or not their particular talents were served by that route. I would not argue against the idea that everyone should have the chance to go to university – which now is becoming more difficult, as it is so expensive again. But if a person’s talents or temperament are better served on some other path, that should be an equal option, and equally respected.

I sometimes think I might have been more successful if I had taken a degree, in so far as it would have changed people’s perception of me. I also think I might have gone terminally round the bend. But I don’t really think I would have been more intelligent or generally well-informed. (Those who know me are free to argue to the contrary…)

There is a point after which you can only educate people with their consent and co-operation. There is also a point after which you cannot stop people acquiring education, short of locking them up away from all sources of information, and even then they will go on thinking. And that point generally occurs before they are twenty-one, or even eighteen.

I have dear friends with a university education. I have dear friends with none. I perceive no consistent difference in their intelligence or all-round awareness and knowledge of things in general. If a person’s calling is to be a surgeon, they should be given every facility. If their calling is to be a street-sweeper, likewise. Streets need sweeping, and to assume only stupid people can do it is really rather insulting.