September 13, 2014
September 4, 2014
Now available as free downloads http://radicaledbks.com/
August 27, 2014
Vocational education is supposed to improve work and employment skills, but many of the vocational courses developed in schools and colleges after the collapse of industrial apprenticeships in the 1970s have not offered real opportunities for young people in the labour market. Instead, a succession of vocational courses and qualifications were introduced, lasted a few years and were then discarded in favour of new ones.
Some of these were high profile youth training schemes with new qualifications, such as the General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) that claimed parity of esteem with A-levels. Some were expensive white elephants like the specialist diplomas championed by New Labour. The most durable were the BTEC awards. They all aimed to provide new types of ‘soft skills’ needed across the growing service sector.
Even though vocational qualifications offered at Advanced level provided opportunities to enter higher education, academic qualifications continued to represent ‘powerful knowledge’ in terms of the jobs market and access to more prestigious universities. Schools and colleges in the 1990s were encouraged by Lord Dearing’s pathways approach to his review of the National Curriculum to use vocational qualifications for ‘non-academic’ students. The more student-friendly pedagogy and less hierarchical classroom relationships involved in these new qualifications were said to reflect the modern workplace but also provided ways for teachers and lecturers to gentle these students along a low status route.
However, the repackaging of vocational qualifications as ‘applied’ learning – part of New Labour’s Curriculum 2000 proposals – could not widen the student base nor gather greater employer support. As a result, many teachers and educationalists continued to be suspicious of the pathways approach, seeing it as reflecting the divisions of the 1944 Act and contradicting the comprehensive principle of an inclusive and broadly balanced curriculum. More recently, the standing of vocational qualifications was reduced further as some schools entered entire cohorts for vocational ‘equivalents’ to improve their standing in GCSE league tables.
On coming to office, Michael Gove commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to review vocational learning. Wolf argued that students put on vocational pathways at 14 were ‘short-changed’ in the labour market because of the poor quality and low value of these courses. In response, Gove streamlined the number of vocational courses available at 14 and 16, but also demanded more ‘rigour’. By this he meant that to qualify as one of the eight subjects on which new school league tables would be formulated, a vocational qualification had to follow certain criteria, could not count as more than one GCSE and had to have more external assessment.
But Gove’s ‘grammar school education for all’ approach was rejected by Lord Baker, the creator of City Technology Colleges in the 1980s. Baker argued for a continuation of the Dearing approach and reintroduced University Technology Colleges to provide a vocational/technical specialism sometimes linked to a particular company or university.
Baker’s approach has been adopted by Labour. The Adonis Review has called for 100 UTCs to be established by 2020 (http://feweek.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Adonis-Report-Final-Doc-1-July-14.pdf), while Shadow Education Minister, Tristram Hunt, used his speech to the Microsoft Foundation to attack the ‘backwardness’ of Gove’s deluded grammar schools for all approach. He also reaffirmed the Party’s commitment to the Tech-Bacc, agreeing with Lord Baker that the main problem with the 1944 Act was the underdevelopment of technical schools which put the UK at a disadvantage in ‘the global skills race’ (http://press.labour.org.uk/post/95085249764/the-choice-in-education-70-years-of-the-butler).
Hunt’s ‘Two Nation Labour’ approach also proposes the rebranding of further education colleges as ‘Institutes of Technical Education’ for those school leavers who have failed on the academic route and Labour has already announced new Technical Degrees (www.radicaled.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/labours-new-technical-degrees/) involving part-time/ day release study – and as with the current two-year foundation degrees likely to be be delivered through the Further Education sector.
Labour’s desire to create a stronger ‘technician level’ route into employment is also reflected in its policies for reforming apprenticeships, where the Adonis Review correctly identifies many of their shortcomings. Firstly, apprenticeships are invariably low-level with minimal training, still predominantly for adults and mainly in low-paid service sectors like health and social care; customer service; and hospitality & catering. The Review also correctly calls for the public, rather than the private sector to play a leading role in apprenticeship creation.
Adonis, like Lord Baker, is an admirer of the success of German technical education and apprenticeships and his Review emphasises the need for a more general industrial strategy. But given the continued slide to a low-wage, economy with ‘lousy’ not ‘lovely’ jobs (http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/20002/1/Lousy_and_Lovely_Jobs_the_Rising_Polarization_of_Work_in_Britain.pdf), the sort of measures proposed are far too little, too late and well short of those implemented in post-war Germany! Adonis and Labour also overestimate the extent to which the UK’s industrial and technological demise can be arrested by the creation of ‘high quality’ vocational education and training. This would need to be linked to a massive increase of (public) investment and rigorous economic planning, hardly compatible with a UK style free market and ‘flexible’ economy.
In any case, the huge rise in the number of graduates means that they, rather than school leavers or apprentices, increasingly fill ‘non-graduate’ jobs. Surveys report between a third to half of new graduates being pushed down into jobs they are over-qualified for. Half a million applicants to higher education this year (a record number) shows that, despite debts for exorbitant fees to pay more for less at overcrowded universities, young people realise that a degree offers their best chance of the secure the professional employment they crave.
As a result, rather than trying to rebuild a vocational route, it would be better to provide a good general education for everybody with a school-leaving certificate at 18 providing entitlement to different types of learning, including learning about work as well as to work, plus major reforms to the delivery and assessment of ‘academic’ education to make it more relevant and accessible to all.
August 22, 2014
When Eric Hobsbawm asked in 1978 whether the forward march of labour had halted, he was calling attention to a possible political reversal, not bidding Farewell to the Working Class as Andre Gorz did two years later. More recently, Guy Standing in 2011 proposed the birth of The Precariat, a ‘dangerous new class’ growing alongside the dwindling proletariat, while in the same year Owen Jones suggested that the entire English working class had been turned into Chavs (2011) – read more at (http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/15909)
August 19, 2014
The fact that the relatively high overall growth of the UK economy has not led to a corresponding increase in wages – the latest ONS figures now showing real wages are falling (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/august-2014/index.html) – has perplexed policy makers and, for the moment at least, put a brake on an interest rate hike. Wages excluding bonuses between April and June 2014 are barely 0.6% higher than a year ago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28325361). This compares to a pre-downturn average of 2.5%. Whereas the economy has now returned to its previous level of output, regular pay has fallen 5.25% during the last four years.
Changes in wages often ‘lag’ behind other changes in the economy but there’s little sign of any catch up, with the Bank of England upgrading growth predictions but now downgrading its prediction for wage growth (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28768450) despite estimating that the level of spare capacity in the economy could be as little as 1%. Wage increases are invariably linked to increases in productivity (output per worker) but UK productivity still remains over 15%, below both its pre-recession level as well as below that of other countries. It’s also the case that if the increase in population is taken into account and a ‘GNP per capita’ measurement is used then the economy isn’t really growing at all.
Though more people are working, the additional labour has not always been drawn from the dole queue. This also helps to explain why there’s not been the ‘trade off’ between falls in unemployment and rising wages which economic theory suggests there should be. The continued importance of part-time work, (one in four new jobs are in this category and 36% of all workers now report they are ‘part-time’), particularly in a ‘24/7’ service sector with its flexible and weekend shifts, has meant it’s easier for people who might previously have left the labour force because of family and other responsibilities, to find employment. At the same time there are also well over a million part-time workers who want to work more hours.
There’s clear evidence that people are working beyond retirement as there are more than a million workers over 65. Also, almost half of the new jobs have been ‘self-employed’ – with many of the self-employed earn up to 40% less than if they were ‘employees’ (http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/just-job-or-working-compromise-changing-nature-sel/) In fact, if the earnings of all self-employed people were included in pay data, wage levels would be shown to have fallen further (www.resolutionfoundation.org/press/self-employed-earnings-measure/).
But it’s also the nature of the jobs that are being created which explains low levels of wages and low productivity instead of wages going up with productivity. According to the ONS bulletin, of the 1.1 million increase in jobs in the year to March 2014, only 189,000 have been in the ‘professional, scientific and technical’ high wage and high productivity category. So most of this summer’s 300,000 university graduates will not get one of the 56,000 current vacancies in this sort of work but will end up being ‘over-qualified’ for the work they do, draining productivity increases still further. For example, a high number of low-paid women are working significantly below their skill or qualification level with over a fifth of those polled educated to degree level.. more than one in five women earning less than £7.44 per hour were educated to degree level (www.fawcettsociety.org.uk)
In comparison, low paid and low productive industries (because they are so labour intensive) have continued to expand. Thus ‘accommodation and food services’ generated 128,000 extra jobs, likewise ‘human health and social work’ (also one of the lowest paid) generated 89,000. Meanwhile, there are only 44,000 new manufacturing jobs – a sector where any productivity increases would be most noticeable.
With 1 in 5 workers earning less than the ‘living wage’ and new data showing that CEOs receive up to 143 times the pay of those they employ (www.theguardian.com/business/2014/aug/18/pay-gap-grows-ftse-bosses) it’s inequality rather than growth that’s the main issue in the economy.
August 15, 2014
Another year of university ‘clearing’ swings into gear; but it now takes a very different form compared to when originally established to help those who had missed out on their grades having a second opportunity to gain a place elsewhere. Despite tuition fee hikes and Coalition members continuing to ‘talk up’ failing apprenticeships as an alternative to university, there’s no evidence that students are shunning Higher Education – disadvantaged young people even less so (www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/13/university-tuition-fee-rise-poorer-students).
With universities now able to recruit an unlimited number of students with ABB grades and with those who achieve higher grades than are expected able to ‘trade up’ the Financial Times (09/08/14) likened the process to a “football transfer window” as leading universities use everything from free laptops to cash incentives to lure away those who’ve already been accepted elsewhere (www.ft.com/cms/s/0/da265744-1f04-11e4-9d7d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3A41RHXDo). As the FT indicates, it’s clear that more institutions have been using the Oxbridge style ‘unconditional offer’ to make sure that they are not left empty handed.
This is only half of the story however. If an additional 30,000 places have been funded to allow the recruitment of high performers, this year’s A-level results mean that competition for students will be intensified further and universities are likely to have to admit many who have failed to gain the grades required in their original offer. Despite a 0.6% increase in the new A*grade (as teachers found out what was required to reach it), the percentage of A and B grades are down slightly as is the overall pass rate. A fall in the number of 18 year olds also reduces the size of the pool the universities are fishing in.
Changes to examinations by Michael Gove and supported by new Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, are also affecting the supply of applicants. The ending of the January sitting limits retake opportunities and reductions in coursework are said to favour boys. Ofqual has been instructed to apply a ‘comparative outcomes’ approach, designed to limit ‘grade inflation’ while the proportion of entries for the more traditional ‘facilitating’ subjects favoured by Russell universities have also increased.
Because of other changes to individual subjects, Ofqual chief Glenys Stacey had already warned that public exam results could be ‘particularly volatile’ this year; but in future the general trend can only be downwards because more fundamental changes to A-levels kick in from 2015 ( http://radicaled.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/gcse-the-times-they-are-a-changing/ and http://radicaled.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/back-to-the-grammar-school/).
In the post-crash economy however, the increase in both the number of university places available and the number of ‘first choice’ acceptances will not be ‘an important source of social mobility’, as Universities Minister Greg Clark claims. Instead, the number of young people finding themselves ‘overqualified and underemployed’ will continue to grow as Office for National Statistics figures just released show continued falls in levels of pay and the number of new jobs being created in low skill/ low paid sectors vastly outnumbering better paid/ higher skilled opportunities. Around a million jobs may have been created in the last 12 months but less than 1 in 5 can be classified as ‘professional, scientific or technical’. (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/august-2014/statistical-bulletin.html) This can only strengthen arguments that changes to the education system, in the interests of young people rather than market forces, must be part of more general changes to the labour market and economy if they are to be effective.
July 30, 2014
David Willetts jumped before he was pushed by resigning from the Cabinet along with Michael Gove who was dismissed in Cameron’s cosmetic reshuffle. They won’t be back – Willetts hopes for a job in Europe while Gove may be editing the Daily Mail after May.
Together Willetts and Gove attempted a Great Reversal in English education. Gove by inflicting a grammar school curriculum on all schools so that fewer would be selected for higher education and Willetts by introducing exorbitant student fees that he thought would deter all but a few from applying to university and thus reduce government costs. Instead of less though, more school leavers applied in hopes of a secure job on graduation; especially when, as Martin Allen has shown, most of the ‘apprenticeships’ the Coalition promised did not provide an alternative route to this goal. Willetts, as much more of a free-market fundamentalist than Gove, accepted the Will of the Market and promised instead to sell the growing mountain of student debt owed by nearly half of all young people.
Despite his failure to do this, Willetts – unlike Gove – is deferred to by many academics and most journalists as a ‘two brains’ genius. But he has lost what Andrew McGettigan called his Great University Gamble, adding £191 billion in student loans to government debt. BIS estimate only a third of this will be repaid by 2046, after which unpaid loans will be written off. Consequently, the Treasury have repeatedly tried to get rid of Willetts but he promised he would sell the debt on – only no one wanted to buy. His boss at BIS Vince Cable admitted as much as soon as Willetts was reshuffled.
Now Willetts has popped up to defend himself, claiming on BBC’s Newsnight (28/7) to have been working on a scheme to sell the debt to the universities themselves. This will not go down well with the private colleges and ‘universities’ he’s been so keen to stimulate but some of the richer unis (guess which?) might be interested as they see a profit in this, particularly as Willetts is suggesting that this new reform will tie student subject choice more closely to job prospects on graduation. But however ‘employable’ unis claim to make their graduates, this aspect of student as consumer is narrowing student choice and perverting relations between students and staff because, basically, UNIVERSITIES HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE GRADUATE JOBS MARKET.
So the proposal will lose the support of many academics who have been complicit in Willetts’ fee hike on which their own funding now depends (except for the still Higher Education Funding Council-funded Science Technology Engineering and Maths STEM subjects). With clearing upon us, nearly all the unis are in cut-throat competition to cram in students who are paying much more for less. In fact, all but Oxbridge and LSE went into clearing last year for at least one of their subjects. And these are amongst the few unis who will benefit from taking on their own graduates’ debts since they might make a profit from the higher paying jobs some of them get. So much so, they could charge even higher fees!
Yet, as Newsnight’s Chris Cook points out, under this regime, ‘Even a strong university like Leeds would go from having debt equivalent to about 38% of its current annual income to well over 100% within three years.’ He also adds that there would be even stronger incentives to grade inflation since ‘Unemployment among people with first-class degrees just out of universities was 5% in 2012/13, as opposed to 7.2% for people with upper-seconds.’
And what of unis where many students are unemployed or in low-paid jobs after graduation? Would government just let them go to the wall, achieving Willetts-Gove’s aim of reducing the numbers in higher education? And is Labour’s policy still to reduce fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and/or will they reinvent Foundation degrees in the form of ‘technical degrees’ leading on from a 14+ ‘technical route’ in schools, like Kenneth Baker’s University Technical Colleges, going back to bi- or tripartite schooling in place of Gove’s delusions in ‘grammar schools for all’?
Certainly, if the Tories get back in the cap of £9,000 as the top fee allowed will be removed but meanwhile this last desperate proposal won’t get David Willetts out of the hole he dug for himself.
Allen, M. (2014) Another Great Training Robbery or a Real Alternative for Young People? Apprenticeships at the start of the 21st century. London: radicaled. (Free download from this site.)
Allen, M. and Ainley, P. (2013) The Great Reversal, Young People, Education and Employment in a Declining Economy. http://www.radicaledbks.com
McGettigan, A. (2013) The Great University Gamble, Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education. London: Verso.
July 16, 2014
As another difficult academic year draws to a close, it goes without saying that Michael Gove’s departure will be greeted euphorically by teachers and campaigners, particularly those who have focussed almost entirely on the ex-Secretary of State’s combative style, abrasive manner and other personal inadequacies.
He may continue play a key role ‘at the heart of government’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28302487) and in maintaining Tory Party discipline, (somewhat ironic considering his own the recent spat with Home Secretary May) but Gove was becoming a liability for Cameron who has sought to restrict his public profile over recent weeks. Also, with Gove at the helm, there’s been little chance of the long running teachers’ pay dispute being resolved. Strike action by teachers is not the cause of his departure, but it’s certainly been a contributory factor.
But it has to be said that one of Gove’s main projects – making exams more difficult pass, trying to lower aspirations and create new divisions between young people and between schools (http://radicaled.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/gcse-the-times-they-are-a-changing/) is now bedded in and timed to unravel over the coming months; also across any changes in government. As with Free Schools, Labour may repackage the proposals as a series of baccalaureates, but it won’t undo the detailed changes currently being implemented by examination boards, So in this respect Gove can be effectively moved, high profile Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss promoted out of the Department for Education and a complete outsider (who is by all accounts pro-Gove) installed to oversee a holding operation until the election, combining her post as Education Secretary with a responsibility for Women (!)
If Gove’s legacies are to be seriously challenged and as the election approaches, a huge amount of work is required in developing an alternative education policy that goes beyond calling for teachers’ professional autonomy to be restored in the classroom and for LEAs to be rehabilitated. This means building links between teacher organisations, parent campaigners and Labour Party dissidents, but also across the different sectors of education.
Compared with Gove, the resignation (or dismissal?) of Universities Minister David Willetts has received little attention. Attempting to ‘price out’ many potential students from higher education, Willetts has been responsible for the introduction of a fees and loans system which rather than increasing opportunities has led to a situation where more than half of new graduates will end up in work inappropriate to their qualifications, (www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/26/student-unrealistic-job-expectations) with billions of loan debt likely never to be repaid as a result of poor job prospects and low pay (http://radicaled.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/as-the-treasury-recognises-its-financially-unsustainable-will-the-university-tuition-fees-bubble-burst/) Meanwhile, despite the efforts of (now also departed) Skills Minister Mathew Hancock to talk up their success, apprenticeships have not become serious alternatives to HE (www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/10/apprenticeships-failing-youth-unemployment-skills#start-of-comments).
Standing up for education also means standing up for young people who, according to Institute of Fiscal Studies research (www.ifs.org.uk/) have suffered far more than anybody else as a result of the recession.