rethinking education, economy and society

July 16, 2014

The piper(s) may have gone, but the tune remains the same?

Filed under: Coalition education policies — sitemananger @ 12:41 pm

untitleddavid_willettsAs 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’ ( 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 ( 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, (  with billions of loan debt likely never to be repaid as a result of poor job prospects and low pay (   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 (

Standing up for education also means standing up for young people who, according to Institute of Fiscal Studies research (  have suffered far more than anybody else as a result of the recession.  


July 14, 2014

Labour’s new Technical degrees

Filed under: Higher Ed — sitemananger @ 8:06 am


Many of Labour’s education policy announcements are either clouded by vagueness or appear poorly thought through.  No more so than with the recent proposals for Technical Degrees. ( For example, David Miliband is accused by Professor Alison Wolf of both undermining the importance of Higher Level Apprenticeships and creating confusion over the status of the existing Foundation Degrees; while Coalition Skills Minister Mathew Hancock also claimed that Miliband was in a ‘bit of a muddle’ (  While there may well be confusion over the specifics of particular reforms however, more significant are the wider illusions on which the policy announcements are based.

Firstly, Labour sees the major divide being between the ‘graduates’ and the ‘forgotten 50%’. Though being re-established as One Nation Labour, these ideas are a continuation of the ideas of New Labour where the aim was to get as many people into higher education as possible so as to increase social mobility.  But the increase in the number of graduates under New Labour  only created a situation where more were ‘overqualified and underemployed’ –one survey now suggesting that just 53% of university leavers will gain ‘graduate jobs’ in the next five years.  ( Emphasising a graduate /non-graduate divide also ignores the different labour market returns from different sorts of degrees awarded by different sorts of institutions.

Secondly,  Labour cites a ‘skills crisis’ as the justification for training more technician level workers, but projects like the high speed rail line or  the growth (often overestimated) of employment in new ICT based ‘cutting edge’ industries are not going to compensate for the long term decline in manufacturing employment (already less than 12% of total employment even if manufacturing output remains the same as 25 years ago) or ‘the ‘hollowing out’ of intermediate level employment ( .  As is the case with Advanced Level Apprenticeships, rather than having to sponsor existing employees through Technical Degrees as Miliband proposes; the glut of graduates means employers can draw upon those already qualified.

Once again, Labour is only  proposing superficial reforms to the ‘supply side ’ of the labour market rather than confronting the major inadequacies that young people face in trying to enter employment and which requires linking its education and training  policies  to a more general industrial strategy and an alternative economic plan. 

July 10, 2014

‘Dead end’ apprenticeships are failing to help young people find lasting work

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 10:43 am

news          10/7/14

Apprenticeships are not improving young peoples’ skills enough to provide a real alternative to university,   according to new research

July 9, 2014

More Nonsense on Apprenticeships.

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 7:41 am

front_page_001Several national newspapers reported Skills Minister Matthew Hancock’s latest attempt to talk up the Coalition’s faltering apprenticeship programme ( Newspapers also carried statistics showing an 18% in the number of 16 and 17 year olds signing up for apprenticeships –with 50 000 youngsters now taking this route, yet these figures take on a rather different significant when they are compared against the number of 16-17 staying on in full-time education, some 1.2 million and representing over 85% of the cohort.

Hancock also pointed to a 40% increase in the number of under-25 year olds on Advanced level apprenticeships (work-based alternatives to A-level) but other government figures show only 22,100 starts by under-19 year olds for the six months from August 2013 with another 28 000 by those 19-25. Compared with the 300 000 plus A-level candidates and the 310 000 acceptances of university places by school leavers for September 2013, these numbers are extremely small and show that whatever Hancock and Coalition colleagues like to tell us; apprenticeships do not represent a serious alternative to university and that most young people entering sixth-form will in the absence of real apprenticeship opportunities (applicants outnumber vacancies by well over 10 to 1) continue to sign up for A-level courses if they can.

Download   Another Great Training Robbery or a Real Alternative for Young People? Apprenticeships at the Start of the 21st Century.

July 3, 2014

Back to school for some of the NEETS: but for what sort of learning?

Filed under: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 7:34 am

070228_bored_students_02New Government figures ( show the number of 16-18 year old NEETS at the lowest level for 20 years with a drop of a fifth over the last year. 81% of the age group were in education or work based training at the end of 2013 (70% in full-time school or college). The reduction in NEETS coincides with the raising of the ‘participation rate’ rather than reflecting an increase in the number working –ONS  statistics for Feb to April 2014 showed only 85 000 of the quarter of a million 16 and 17 year olds who have left full-time education have found work. Apprenticeship participation also continues to be very low,– figures (  showing only 71 000 starts by those under 19 and less than 6% of 16-18 year olds in ‘work-based’ learning. In fact , even before the raising of the participation age, as the Wolf Report recognised, most 16-17 year olds are as likely to have been ‘pushed’ back into full-time education because of lack of alternatives, rather than ‘pulled’ back by the prospect of increased opportunities for social mobility.

With increases in staying-on, there will continue to be debate about the nature of the 16-18 ‘sixth form’ curriculum with Labour being the strongest advocate of a new vocational/technical pathway (A Tech-Bacc) for the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. Yet it’s extremely unlikely that following a vocational course will increase the chances of employability. Few employers are familiar with vocational qualifications, those who may be, are still likely to favour candidates with A-levels –while those young people who can, continue to enrol for academic courses. Many of the ‘middle’ or ‘technician level’ jobs which these qualifications (and apprenticeships for that matter) are said to lead to, are now disappearing –or are being done by ‘overqualified’ graduates, while according to surveys, most employers report that they are generally happy with the skills of school and college leavers and that the majority are ‘ready for work’ ( The problem is that so few seek to recruit them!

Following Wolf’s advice that they provide low labour market returns, Michel Gove has pruned the number  of vocational qualifications that are available, demanded more ‘rigorous’ content and that they take on some of the characteristics of academic learning.  Here, he is at odds with Lord Baker who continues to open more University Technical Colleges (UTCs) providing vocational specialisation at 14 (

But if ‘vocational pathways’ do not provide opportunities this does not mean we should see the current academic qualifications as the way forward. In an increasingly uncertain world, all 16-18 year olds need a good general education that includes academic, vocational, practical and community based learning; but which also uses e-learning to the full and develops research skills.

June 21, 2014

Labour, Young People and the Job Seekers Allowance.

Filed under: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 7:13 am

Labour proposes to make unemployed young people between 18-21,  without a level 3 (equivalent to A-level)  qualification ineligible for Job Seekers Allowance (70% of current youth claimants are in this category).  Identified as a further rolling back of the welfare state by most critics –it’s been unveiled alongside plans to make eligibility for full JSA dependent on 5 rather than 2 years of National Insurance payments –it also represents a further change in thinking in relation to labour market and skills policy.

Labour has taken its cue from the centre-left think-tank the IPPR’s argument  that because JSA eligibility requires claimants to be available for work it therefore prevents unemployed young people from signing up for more training.  The IPPR (and now Labour) wants to create a distinct ‘work, training and benefits track’ for those who do not attend university. Young people who do sign up for level 3 courses (likely to be  vocational qualifications with functional skills)  will receive a new Youth Allowance payment, though this will be heavily means tested against parental income. 

Labour and the IPPR   proposals illustrate the extent to which  social democrats  continue  to endorse Neo-Liberal ideas about education and training  and the belief that because the 21st century economy is a high skills economy  then future ‘employability’ of young people depends on them acquiring more  qualifications.  This can be contrasted with the ‘Social Jobs Fund’ approach of the previous Labour government which, despite its limitations, provided employers with subsidies to take on unemployed youth, implying, at least in part, that there were not enough jobs for young people to apply for.

It is true that increasing levels of qualifications improves the chances of ‘employability’ but this is not in the way that Neo-Liberal thinking portrays.  There are still plenty of low skilled jobs available, many of which are difficult or not cost-effective to automate. The first problem is that evident shows employers reluctant to employ young people – modern labour markets and the 24/7 nature of many of new  jobs meaning there are plenty of other applicants to draw from. The second problem is, as surveys also show; many young people, particularly graduates,  ‘trade down’ to jobs they are overqualified for, as the number of high skilled, professional and managerial jobs fail to meet demand.

Of course, all young people should be eligible for free training (and free HE for that matter), but welfare and financial benefits should not be dependent on this and education ‘entitlements’ need to be accompanied by job creation policies, including an apprenticeship system that allows progression to proper employment. Without this, the danger is that education credentials continue to be no more than a ‘positional good’ only helping  to improve your relative position in the jobs queue; with education itself ending up a race to the bottom.

June 19, 2014

The robots are coming? The economic and educational implications of the ‘Second Machine Age’.

Filed under: Books — sitemananger @ 9:10 pm

untitledMartin Allen   reviews  The  Second Machine Age. Work Progress, and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies

Erik Brynjolfsson and   Andrew McAfee’s   The Second Machine Age ( Norton  2014,  ISBN  978-0-393-23935-5 ),  is  an important contribution to the  debate about the effects of  technological change on the workplace and the changing shape of the occupational structure.

Advances in computer technology are seen as being responsible for the disappearance of what were considered to be ‘routine’ jobs with Goos and Manning’s 2003 paper  about the polarisation of the occupational structure providing  the  basis for what is now commonly referred to  as the ‘hour-glass’ economy, where  increased employment in cognitively-based professional work, but also  the expansion  of new labour intensive unskilled occupations in service sectors still  dependent  on personal contact, has resulted in a ‘hollowing out’ of the middle. But Brynjolfsson and McAfee now argue that even the more highly-skilled ‘knowledge-based’   professional occupations are at risk as a result of the ability of digital technology to turn everything into ‘ones and zeroes’.  Citing Google’s  ‘car with no driver’ as one of the clearest  examples of how  human superiority is in jeopardy as  machines are increasingly able to codify distinctly ‘non-routine’ activity,  they argue that it’s wrong to assume that  jobs requiring ‘college level’ qualifications are hard to automate while ‘kindergarten’ level  employment is easy.

The MIT researchers don’t  commit to any definitive conclusion on the exact extent technology will eliminate jobs and remind us that there continue to be activities that even the most intelligent machines find difficult, from ‘walking up stairs’ to ‘picking up a paper clip’ and that humans continue to have the imagination to innovate. In their paper, Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne are more specific in their paper After examining 702 established occupations they estimate about 47% of current US employment is at risk ‘perhaps over the next decade or two’ and that ‘sophisticated algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide’. 

Education and the digital age

Most of those who write about the potential of technology to transform the workplace also see a need for major changes in education. Like them, Brynjolfsson and McAfee see the school system as reflecting the requirements of a previous age – the 20th century, (or even the nineteenth?). They call for new Montessori -inspired classrooms emphasising ‘self-directed learning, hands-on engagement with a wide variety of materials and a largely unstructured school day’. ‘Acquiring an excellent education is the best way to  ensure you are not left behind as technology races ahead.’ Technology is now contributing to this through the growth of on-line learning resources and open courses, pioneered by organisations like the Kahn Academy.

But while many of these recommendations would be seen as progressive alternatives to  the ‘Gradgrind’ programme of Michael Gove,  like other ‘moderniser’ approaches to education, Brynjolfsson and McAfee overestimate  the relationship between the content of the curriculum and the needs of the workplace, sidestepping the social function that education plays in the regulation of young people’s labour market chances.  As Radicaled has consistently argued, rather than educational standards struggling to keep up with technological advance,  the real  crisis for education is that young people become ‘overqualified’  for the limited number of  jobs available to them and as a result, exam certificates are increasingly devalued – an issue touched on, but not developed in the chapter on ‘Recommendations for Individuals’.

As we have also argued, the examination reforms introduced by Michael Gove are designed to control pass rates and restore more limited expectations. A consequence is that the more generic vocational qualifications promoted by modernisers are not considered as ‘powerful knowledge’ and in many schools have constituted a ‘secondary modern’ stream.  Thus, to gain status, Gove has demanded vocational qualifications become redesigned around ‘academic’ principles.  The unstructured days of Montessori, while a progressive development for some, would sharply undermine the social control function of schools. Unfortunately, many teachers would probably see this as undermining their ability to control learning and threatening their ‘professionalism.’

New economic policies are needed

A strength of The Second Machine Age is its interdisciplinary approach and the way in which a detailed explanation of technical progress is combined with more general economic policies for dealing with the collapse of employment opportunities in the 21st century as advances in technology produce winners and losers whilst income inequalities continue to widen. A range of policies are examined,  for example  proposals for a universal social income as well as the use of a negative income tax;  though the authors continue to put their faith in technological progress allowing the economy to grow and generate new jobs, particularly those with high skills and high earning power.

A weakness is a lack of attention given to the possibility of any real opposition to how new technology is used; not just from particular occupational groups that may have the most to lose, but also the opportunities for labour movement organisations to reorientate their activities and  make demands for both the sharing of work and the reduction of working time. It’s now almost 35 years since Andre Gorz’s  Farewell To the Working Class,  argued for just that.

June 11, 2014

Higher Level Apprenticeships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — sitemananger @ 7:41 am

Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley

Written for  The Guardian’s  Higher Education Network

Higher Level Apprenticeships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and progression from the lower level apprenticeships is particularly limited – despite reports to the contrary.

 HLAs are relatively new, designed in 2011 as equivalent to an undergraduate degree with a £25 million initial government investment. Alongside a pledge to create 20,000 places, Vince Cable promised they would ‘put practical learning on a level with academic study’. Some of the 45 different occupational frameworks have still not been finalised however – one reason for growth rates being very slow (less than 10,000 starts in 2012/13, just 2% of apprenticeship starts in total). Because they are so few, they are vastly oversubscribed with 5 applicants for every vacancy.

Up until now, the majority of starts have been by those over 25 years old (only 800 Higher Level starts by under 19 year olds and 4,200 by those 19-24 in 2012/13).  The low number of Higher Level opportunities has also limited the extent of ‘progression’ via an Advanced Level Apprenticeship. As a result, HLAs do not as yet provide a serious ‘alternative’ to a degree. 

Level 4 schemes – equivalent to foundation degree/HND level – are also being delivered by training organisations or by the growing number of private universities. HLAs should require at least part-time classroom-based technical study but their relationship with Higher Education is unclear.

HLAs have been built on the back of increasingly discredited lower level apprenticeships at level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) and – at least until very recently – it has been existing workers, rather than new applicants, who have benefitted most, as employers have ‘converted’ existing staff to ‘apprentices’ to gain training subsidies. This has also enabled government to meet its ‘targets’.

When young people have been directly recruited, they have not usually been guaranteed permanent employment and have found an apprenticeship may only last about a year – sometimes less. More reputable apprenticeships with leading employers have attracted huge numbers of applicants but these are a minority. The majority of schemes, rather than providing real opportunities for learning, have been no more than what we call Another Great Training Robbery. Further Education colleges have been marginalised with work-place training carried out by private training providers, in some cases doing little more than assessing what employees already know, but enjoying lucrative government contracts.

 Following recommendations in the Richard Review, the government now wants to ‘put employers in the driving seat’, giving them more power over apprenticeship funding and to decide what sort of qualifications apprentices should gain.  Also supported by Labour and essentially a continuation of the English free-market, ‘firm by firm’ approach, this may instead lead to a fall in the number of apprentices because it places too much of a burden on individual employers, particularly small ones.

 What Britain lacks is the national regulation that has formed the basis of the German system for the last 50 years, where government, employers and trade unions cooperate in planning apprenticeship numbers as well as training content. This results in two thirds of young Germans completing apprenticeships to at least level 3 (Advanced level) with 90% going into employment. German apprenticeships also generally last at least three years and involve part-time study in special vocational colleges. In comparison, without guarantees of both progression and employment, HLAs are unlikely to become properly embedded.

 Also, compared with Germany, a much greater proportion of UK young people enter university. So many employers see no need to be involved in HLAs when there are more than enough graduates to recruit. At the same time, many leading employers now recruit through internships, while those employers that still want to, can sponsor potential recruits through a university degree. Ironically, the most ‘vocational’ of all university courses, like law and medicine, are those least likely to be under threat from an alternative apprenticeship route.


Another Great Training Robbery or a Real Alternative for Young People ? Apprenticeships at the Start of the 21st Century

 Download  via

June 2, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:21 am

Based on new research, Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley re-
fute exaggerated government claims about the successful re-front_page_001
introduction of apprenticeships. They explain the difficulties 
of emulating the German system, but also argue that more
general changes in the economy threaten the existence of
many of the occupaional skills with which apprenticeships
have traditionally been associated.  It calls for new ap-
proaches, not Another Great Training Robbery.

Download  via


May 18, 2014

Young People in the Labour Market

Filed under: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 6:37 pm

Unemployment has officially fallen to its lowest level for 5 years, with economic output (though not output per person) about to reach its pre-recession level and  growth rates predicted to return to around 3%  for the next 2 or 3 years.  The Coalition, fearing a hammering in this week’s local and European elections are anxious to persuade the electorate that the economy is returning to ‘normal’. This is far from the case however, hence Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s comments that he’s in no rush to raise interest rates “for some time”

In the post-crash labour market, the number of self-employed people has risen to 4.55 million with studies showing that the self-employed, particularly those forced out of wage or salaried employment, can end up earning up to 40% less. According to ONS, of the jobs added since March 2013, more than 50% have been for the self-employed. Add this to the 1.5 million people on zero-hours contracts, the 1.4 million working part-time because they can’t find full-time employment and you have just some of the reasons why average wage increases have now slowed to 1.3%, below the rate of inflation, adding to Mr Carney’s caution.

Meanwhile, Young People in the Labour Market  provides a detailed report from the Office for National Statistics of the changing experiences of young people.


At the end of 2013 for example, youth unemployment measured by the proportion of young people available for work was about the same as in 1984. But by the end of 2013, 42% of young people between 16-24 were in full-time education –compared with 17% in 1984 (32% of 18-24 year olds compared with 8%).   There has been a sharp increase in the size of the student population since 2008, despite rising tuition fees, but contrary to what many people think, the proportion working while studying has fallen since 2000, from 4 in 10 then to just above 1 in 4 now. 64% of full time students were not seeking or available to work.

The ONS data shows what happens when young people do enter the labour market.  Of those  not in full-time education, 19% work in elementary occupations and a further 17% in sales and customer services.  Only about 8% of under 25 year olds work in professional jibs compared with 22% of 25-64 year olds. The question is, will working in jobs for which they may be over qualified provide valuable work experience and allow future career progression?

But it’s also still the case that the higher the level of qualifications held, the more likely you are to find a job, with  ONS reporting that by the time they reach 24, only 8% of graduates are out of work compared with 12% of those only qualified to GCSE –though  this should not be interpreted to imply that graduates are in jobs that they want!

Young People in the Labour Market also shows young people experience different outcomes depending on where they live. Hardly surprising, the South East has the highest employment rate -73% of young people compared to Northern Ireland with 61%; while in the North East, 1 in 4 young people not in full-time education are unemployed. Elsewhere in Europe the highest youth unemployment rate is 58% in Greece,  the lowest being 8% in Germany.  Though international comparisons are not always easy because different countries have different proportions of young people in full-time education –Germany, which offers apprenticeships to all those who want them, is the only country where young unemployment has fallen since the start of the downturn in 2008.

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