THE Prime Minister is preparing to confirm that the re-opening of schools will take place on March 8 after three months of missed classes for the vast majority of pupils.

I’m sure millions of parents will be breathing a sigh of relief because home-schooling can’t be easy, and good teachers are worth their weight in gold. But let’s keep all the scaremongering over the damage that’s allegedly been done to children’s prospects in perspective.

Children go to school and college for 13 years. Missing one year – even if they’d had no teaching at all – represents less than eight per cent of their education. And for at least half of those youngsters, examination grades will be irrelevant anyway.

In my eyes, the pandemic has served to emphasise the need for a complete overhaul of the education system because it is far too obsessed with examination results and league tables. What’s far more important for those who end up in jobs that add real value to society is learning skills on the job.

When you employ a bricklayer or a plumber, it doesn’t matter whether they can do algebra, or know when Queen Victoria died. And yet we have a system in which teachers are judged by measures that simply shouldn’t apply to many children and, in fact, hold them back.

We have to recognise that people are different. They have different skills. Their minds work in different ways. Therefore, we need an education system that’s better at seeing value beyond exam grades.

I started at Morley School, in County Durham, in 1949. No one in my family ever talked about going to grammar school, and university wasn’t on the agenda. It’s one of my biggest regrets that I left school without any qualifications when I was 15 because I wasted two good years – I should have left at 13!

I became an apprentice electrical engineer, going to Bishop Auckland College one day and one night a week. For the rest of the time, I was acquiring as much knowledge as I could by reading, and learning on the job.

Like I said, teachers do an amazing job. To manage a classroom of 30 children day after day requires special ability. I admire and respect what they do enormously. But we need to free them from an education system that’s shackled by a one size fits all mentality.

If I was running schools, I’d start children later, and allow them the option of leaving at 13. I’d place more emphasis on work experience and apprenticeships. We’d have a more flexible system dedicated to maximising the potential of every individual.

Remember that song by Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall? Well, we’d have a much stronger economy if it was built with walls made of lots of different bricks.

So, by all means, let’s get the schools back open on March 8. But, at the same time, let’s not get ourselves into a mad panic about how much damage the past year has done to the younger generation’s examination prospects.

The most important lesson is to recognise that we have to change the status quo on education and make it fit for purpose for all children – not just those who happen to be academic.

• John Elliott MBE is the founder of dehumidifier and washing machine manufacturer Ebac, of Newton Aycliffe