A NEW DIRECTION FOR VOCATIONAL LEARNING OR A GREAT TRAINING ROBBERY? INITIAL RESEARCH INTO AND ANALYSIS OF THE REINVENTION OF APPRENTICESHIPS AT THE START OF THE 21ST CENTURY
ESRC Seminar 28/02/14 Martin Allen & Patrick Ainley
The new emphasis placed on apprenticeships by the Coalition (achieving 1.5 million starts since coming to office) is a response to the increasing difficulties young people face in entering the labour market, but also the need to provide alternatives to a higher education system fuelled by mountains of unpaid student debt and a generation of graduates who are ‘overqualified and underemployed’. It is also a response to a long-standing perceived UK skills crisis at ‘intermediate’ and ‘technical’ level with the CBI arguing that the UK cannot rely on traditional degree courses to meet all the needs of key industries such as manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.
This contribution argues that, rather than contributing to increased economic prosperity, most of this latest crop of apprenticeships have been low skilled and ‘dead end’, aimed at regrading existing workers as much as recruiting and upskilling young people. Forty years after Ivar Berg’s Education and Jobs, The Great Training Robbery noted, ‘America fools many of its young by linking job opportunities to diplomas and degrees from schools that provide sometimes pitifully inadequate – indeed appalling – experiences’ (1973, 29), the main benefactors of this latest Great Training Robbery have been private training agencies.
The second part of the study assesses the future of apprenticeships. It contrasts the system of apprenticeships in the UK with the German ‘dual system’ – frequently cited as a model the UK could emulate – examining differences in state formation and culture. But it also questions the arguments and assumptions about employment and skills on which the latest expansion of apprenticeships have been based. In conclusion, an alternative approach related to higher vocational pedagogy is suggested…….
For the Foundation, young people are now the ‘new poor’ – facing higher levels of unemployment than adults, suffering significant declines in wages and having to spend growing proportions of their income on housing and other daily essentials.
It’s wrong however, to see ‘intergenerational’ divisions as being more important than traditional class divisions, or to accuse the ‘baby-boomer’ generation for having too much. Instead, we can only explain the experiences of young people by looking at more general changes in society and in particular, more general changes in the labour market – the decline of ‘permanent’ employment and loss of what used to be a ‘youth labour market’. Rather than a ‘knowledge economy’, the growth of a service sector economy generates low-paid, low-skilled and often part-time employment, where the minimum wage is becoming the going rate and where trade union representation and ‘collective bargaining’ is restricted to the few. Despite the much touted expansion of ‘self-employment’, the reality is that most newly self-employed people earn far less than they did previously. New economic conditions now mean that many people find themselves becoming part of a new poor. Class divisions may be recomposing but they are still paramount.
It’s also misleading to see the problems faced by the current generation of young people as being primarily the result of the recent economic downturn. The recession has accentuated these changes resulting in a situation where it’s highly likely that each successive generation will be poorer than the previous one despite being better ‘qualified’ than the previous one. In these circumstances, education cannot deliver upward social mobility save for an exceptional few, while for the majority the only absolute social mobility is downward. Like Alice through the Looking Glass, most young people have to run faster and faster just to stand still – like running up a down-escalator.
Instead of a new youth or intergenerational politics as some now espouse (eg. www.lwbooks.co.uk/ebooks/Regeneration.html), existing political organisations and parties, particularly those that claim to be ‘left wing’ or ‘socialist’ need to seriously re-adjust to these changing conditions. As argued (Allen and Ainley 2013; 111 www.radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/great-reversal.pdf), in relying on the power of social networking, the current generation of young radicals may have little time for the traditional campaigning activities of their parents’ generation, but the power of young people to act as an independent force is questionable and a new youth politics will still need to use old alliances.
Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 7:33 am
Today politicians offer everyone a chance of rising up through education, ignoring the fact that there isn’t employment for all those who qualify. They think bringing back grammar schools will restart what sociologists call the upward social mobility that existed after the war when selected working-class children could move up into growing managerial and professional jobs………….
Stuart Hall, who died last week, was regarded as one of Britain’s leading intellectuals and exerted huge influence on recent academic, political and cultural debates.
Though not writing much specifically about education, Hall’s work on the importance of ‘culture’ as a key political area of social action and intervention provided a new intellectual framework for those with a more specific interest in studying the processes of schooling. In a limited space it’s almost impossible to provide an adequate account of Hall’s contribution to rethinking the relationship between education, economy and society, but the main thrust is as follows.
Though influenced by the Structuralist Marxism of Louise Althusser and his arguments about education being part of the ‘Ideological State Apparatus’, Hall and his colleagues at Birmingham University’s Centre For Cultural Studies rejected the idea that ‘reproduction’ of class relationships was direct or automatic. Drawing on Gramsci, they argued that post-war social democracy represented a class ‘settlement’ –a sort of compromise. The product of particular historical conditions, it encompassed both progressive and reactionary elements, reflecting the balance of forces within society. Policy outcomes were also mediated by the interests of groups responsible for implementing them.
No more so than the education reforms of the post-war period, which – though implemented partly in response to popular demands for greater social equality and opportunity – were also deeply ‘unpopular’. Not surprisingly, as they were the product of an alliance of national political elites, LEA administrators and newly ‘professionalised’ teachers. As a result, working-class students and parents, while designated as the main benefactors of an expanding public education service, were also largely excluded from any direct influence over it.
The ‘settlement’ was only provisional and the compromise could not last because it lacked real legitimacy and was thus always open to challenge. With a more difficult economic climate emerging from the late 1970s and the lack of any popular radical alternative, the Right succeeded in imposing a new and uncompromising settlement. From then on, allegations that education was not meeting the needs of the economy and was not properly ‘accountable’ featured under both Conservative and Labour governments – Michael Gove building on many of the ideas of the Blair period as well as those of the 1980s’ Tories.
The Cultural Studies courses that continue to blossom in universities have now adopted ‘post-modern’ terms of reference, while Hall’s teachings about the complexity of the relationship between economy, state and ideology have long since departed from most education departments. Yet, with evidence showing social mobility has gone into reverse so that having a stack of educational credentials doesn’t get you the sort of job it used to, education is again losing its ‘legitimacy’ as a way forward for new generations.
Having largely disappeared by the end of the 1980s, apprenticeships have been reinvented in response to high levels of youth unemployment and as an alternative avenue for thousands of young people who don’t think there’s any option but to apply to university -proponents of apprenticeships also arguing that there is a potential shortage of ‘intermediate’ or ‘technical’ skills.
Official data shows however that the majority of apprenticeship vacancies are still only at Intermediate level (GCSE equivalent) – an educational standard that most young people have already reached. These generally last for no more than a year, do not guarantee any automatic progression to Advanced level, or lead to a definite job. Now, new Higher level apprenticeships have been established but with only a few hundred school leavers able to start these last year, it’s far too early to consider them as university alternatives.
The UK apprenticeship system is very different to that in Germany, for example, where apprenticeships are a right to all young people, are at least level 3 and in 90% of cases still lead to employment. German apprenticeships are also based on a ‘dual system’ whereby as well as training ‘on the job’ apprentices must spend a specific amount of time completing workplace training, but also technical education courses in the classroom. In comparison UK apprenticeship ‘training’ can be limited to a few hours each week.
While government and reformers rightly call for both the expansion and the upgrading of apprenticeships, the key question is how many employers really need them, or whether they’ve been sold them by private training providers who are then eligible to reclaim the costs from government. There is clear evidence that some employers have regraded existing trainees as ‘apprentices’ to access funds, just over half of all apprentices are under 25.
For example 80% of the jobs created ‘post-crash’ have been low skilled and the use of zero-hours contracts continues to grow. Over recent years, many ‘middle’ jobs have also disappeared –the result of increased use of information technology and wider restructuring. With only a small minority of employers recruiting school leavers directly, it’s unlikely then, that apprenticeships will either upskill young people or reduce youth unemployment significantly. Other job creation policies are needed.
Attack is the best means of defence so Michael Gove earns top marks for coming out fighting in his speech at the London Academy of Excellence today. He has reinvented himself as the champion of social justice and opportunity to distract from his controversies with Ofsted!
Gove has gone further than Harold Wilson’s ‘grammar schools for all’ by promising ‘private education for all’ – or at least state schools as good as private schools. His many detractors will point out this is impossible without equal pupil-teacher ratios, facilities and funding, let alone pupils’ very different types of cultural capital.
Even if Gove’s advocacy of social mobility sounds powerful, things have changed since the 1950s and ‘60s. Then a significant number of post-war working-class young people did indeed benefit from grammar schooling (which only mimicked the private schools). They did so through being able to move up alongside middle-class children as the economy expanded and white collar, managerial and professional employment opportunities continued to grow. How much educational benefit they got from the sort of curriculum that Gove now wants to re impose is an entirely different question.
In today’s labour market however, the majority of young people are likely to end up worse off than their parents, regardless of the type of curriculum they follow. In fact, evidence from the most recent UKCES skills survey ( http://www.ukces.org.uk/news/Press-releases/2014/Jan/SKILLS-SHORTAGES-ACCELERATE) suggests that employers who do take on school, college and university leavers, are generally happy with their educational attainment. It also confirms that the main reason for persisting high levels of youth unemployment is that there is too much competition for too few jobs with employers giving preference to more experienced adults.
With few other opportunities, it isn’t surprising that university applications from 18 year olds are also at their highest ever. Especially from young women for whom there are even fewer labour market options.
So Gove’s policies, which seek to complete a Great Reversal of comprehensive education reforms, are much more about using secondary schooling to enforce social discipline on young people. But imposing practices and sanctions from the past – like writing lines and picking up litter – or having to attend after school activities is more likely to have the opposite effect.
It may be the case that after the economy went into recession in the 1970s with more or less permanent youth unemployment thereafter, comprehensive schools didn’t really improve the relative chances of working-class young people. But at least by encouraging greater social mixing, developing a new type of curriculum and changing the way it was delivered, comprehensives did try to make education more relevant to young people’s needs and schooling a more legitimate form of activity not to mention a more enjoyable experience.
Gove’s Great Reversal is given a spring board as a result of Labour complying with a large part of his programme. So it’s left to teacher unions, whose members are already subject to further attacks on conditions of service and pay, to promote real alternatives.
While the recent league tables for secondary schools show a reduction in ‘underperforming schools’ they also show significant increases in numbers taking Ebacc GCSEs.
•72,000 more pupils took the EBacc than in 2012. In total, 202,000 pupils entered the EBacc (35% of the total), up from 130,000 (23%) in 2012 •in 735 schools, at least half of the pupils took the EBacc – more than double the 334 schools where that was the case in 2012 •23% of pupils in state-funded schools achieved the EBacc this year, up from 16% last year. The proportion of pupils in sponsored academies taking the EBacc has doubled since last year to 22%. Across all local authority mainstream schools, 34% of pupils entered the EBacc, up 13 percentage points.
Education Secretary Michael Gove wasted little time in tying the two together and linking them to the ‘success’ of the academies programme (www.gov.uk/government/news/250000-fewer-pupils-in-underperforming-secondary-schools). For Gove, opportunist as ever, the increased success in Ebacc subjects is ‘a credit to the professionalism and hard work of teachers’ ; but permanently aware and fearful of Ofsted’s expectations, individual schools, like individual teachers shackled by their own performance management targets, have little choice but to fall in line behind these new curriculum requirements.
In reality, Gove’s examination reforms have little to do with raising standards or enabling the UK economy to compete more effectively. Rather than helping young people “find a good job or go on to university”, imposing Ebacc subjects and changing the way in which examinations are assessed are designed to reduce success rates and lower aspirations, necessary in an economy where employment opportunities for young people are declining and where attending university increasingly becomes more expensive (follow link to download below). Despite the efforts of teachers pass rates for the Ebacc subjects – and performances based on eight accredited subjects are unlikely to reach those achieved previously.
The embedding of Ebacc subjects and assessment changes reduce teacher autonomy over the curriculum and continue to restrict learning to being a ‘gradgrind’ activity –part of a great reversal of comprehensive education. But teachers collectively, their subject associations and teacher unions in particular however, still have the power to challenge Gove on areas like the curriculum – an area where he is probably at his weakest.
Download‘Learning to Compete? Challenging Michael Gove’s Fallacies on Standards’chapter from Education Beyond the Coalition
January labour market figures show 450,000 more people in employment, 172,000 fewer unemployed people, 75,000 fewer economically inactive people aged from 16 to 64 and government hailing a ‘jobs boost’.
Also, the earlier hysteria over the number of zero hour contracts (zero hours workers are included as ‘employed’) seems to have been conveniently forgotten -ONS are due to publish an update on numbers sometime in the spring –while pay continues to lag behind inflation levels and growth rates and there’s been no real increase in productivity during recent months, confirming the significant of low paid, labour intensive jobs at the lower end of the service sector, but also a chronic under investment as business and banks hoard much of the cash created by ‘quantitative easing’ or help inflate London property prices further.
Official youth unemployment has fallen slightly. Down 38 000 for 16-24 year olds and down 34 000 for 18-24 year olds not in full-time employment, the reductions are significant but should not be overestimated. 76 000 more young people are working, although this includes 21 000 more full-time students. Official youth unemployment is still at 29%.
The continued fragility of the labour market is demonstrated by Mark Carney’s assurances that interest rates won’t be raised when unemployment reaches 7% -it’s now 7.1 %. Carney has got himself out of jail as a result of falling inflation, but as the investment starved economy reaches its maximum level of capacity, this can’t continue.
Though primarily outlining plans for more austerity and further reductions to welfare in the next Parliament, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25617844) George Osborne used the final part of today’s speech at a west Midlands factory to prop up the Coalition’s education policies.
Once again emphasising the importance of the Academies and Free School programme in raising standards, despite huge evidence to the contrary; Osborne also pointed to Michael Gove’s exam reforms as being necessary to restore ‘rigour’ –even if some of his allies at the CBI have attacked the way schools have been turned into ‘exam factories’ and called for more general and ‘all round’ education (www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20355664). But Osborne also cited the increase in apprenticeships and the removal of the university admissions cap as further examples of promoting skills and raising aspirations.
Provisional data for 2012/13 does indeed show another 500 000 apprentice starts (the government also claims 1.5 million starts since it came to power) but rather than raising skills, two thirds of these were at Intermediate (GCSE equivalent) level, a standard 80% of the population is already qualified to. By comparison, there were just 9000 new Higher Level apprenticeships –seen as the ‘high skills’ alternative to university. What’s more, over 40% of apprenticeships were started by people 25+ (in some cases firms have simply regraded existing workers so as to secure training funds).
Rather than raising aspirations, ending the cap on university recruitment is designed to promote further competition between providers. The most likely winners being those in ‘the middle’ recruiting extra students at the expense of those in the Million + group of ex polytechnics. Thousands pf young people are already pushed into paying an astronomical price to attend university in the absence of any real alternatives and it’s likely that applications are nearing saturation point; with 500 000 given places last year and provisional UCAS figures showing a small fall in applications so far for this (http://www.ucas.com/news-events/news/2014/2014-cycle-applicant-figures-december).
So with Gove maybe keeping a low profile after his First World War history gaff, none of what Osborne says amounts to anything more than nonsense