rethinking education, economy and society

December 9, 2014

Gove’s exam reforms may still come off the rails

Filed under: 14-19, A-levels and the Pre-U — sitemananger @ 9:08 pm

imagesYEARDIVDAfter months of concern, alarm  bells are ringing over accreditation of new A-level syllabuses

Maths and further maths have been put back a year to 2017, while chemistry and English literature syllabuses, due to be taught from 2105  have yet to be given the green-light by Ofqual. With continued doubts  about the new GCSEs also due to begin in 2015 , Michael Gove’s  draconian examinations remain precarious even if Nicky Morgan appears to have been instructed to rubber stamp them.

Telling members that schools and colleges were ‘magnificently rising to the challenge’ Morgan  received a grilling at the Parliamentary Sub-Committee earlier this month on the timing, but also about the design of the new qualifications.

While schools and colleges, even private sector headteachers, continue to be concerned about the pressures on schools in implementing another new set of changes, it’s vital that campaigners, practitioners and teacher unions continue to question and campaign against the archaic educational principles behind the reforms, which as Radicaled has continued to argue, are designed to halt rising success rates as labour market opportunities for young people continue to decline.

As the NUT’s Manifesto for Education outlines, we need a wider vision of learning and achievement.

December 2, 2014

Apprenticeship numbers are falling not rising

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — sitemananger @ 8:13 pm

 The Guardian  (01/12/14) has carried a story about apprenticeships going to workers over 25 rather than to young people and  claiming that 350 000 of the UK’s 851 000 apprentices are  25+

 Although large numbers of  existing employees are still being reclassified as ‘apprentices’ this report is only partially correct. You get a more accurate indication of the age breakdown of apprentices by looking at the statistics for the number of apprenticeship starts rather than those for current participants. 

As our research shows, there is now a far greater proportion of young people starting apprenticeships, while the number of 25+’s starting has fallen from 230 000 to 157 000 over the year. The ‘blip’ in adult recruitment onto apprenticeships in recent years was partly to do with the transfer of Train to Gain funding, though (as our research also shows) there was also overt profiteering by training providers.  Having said that, the number of school leavers  beginning  apprenticeships isn’t rising and is still small compared to the number starting university –  there were less than 120 000 apprenticeship starts by under 19 year olds in total last year, whereas almost half a million school leavers transferred to HE.

Rather than increasing, as the newspaper report suggests, a consequence of a drop in adult numbers has been a  fall in overall apprenticeship starts – down from 500 000 last year  to 450 000.  While government  might still try and play a ‘numbers game,’ our research argues that on the contrary, apprenticeships are running out of steam, because employers don’t really need them. This will become more apparent when funding arrangements are transferred to individual employers as the Richard Review proposed and when they are asked to contribute more.

cover_page_001                                                    Download second edition @

November 20, 2014

Patrick Ainley – Contribution to Croydon Assembly

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 9:41 am

Patrick Ainley . Contribution to Croydon Assembly.  Education Workshop

……….. Both Gove and Willis – even though they reportedly hated each other – agreed that too many kids were in academic education, or rather, that too many of the wrong sort of kids had gone to the wrong sort of universities under Blair’s parentally popular policy of widening participation to higher education, and that academic education should only be for a selected few. Gove was deluded enough to believe that everyone could have an equal chance of being unequal through academic selection by schools providing ‘a grammar school education for all’ in Harold Wilson’s weasel words. This would, Gove thought, restart the limited upward social mobility via grammar schooling from the manual working class to the non-manual middle class that was expanding post-war with a developing economy and growing welfare state…….Read more

October 29, 2014

Apprenticeships – a jobs and employment problem

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 8:27 am

cover_page_001Statistics from the Skill Funding Agency show a fall in the number of apprenticeships starts for the twelve months to July 2014 –a total of 423,500 down from 510,000. This is mostly the result of a fall in the number of ‘adult’ (over 25) apprentices and in the practice where employers re-categorise existing workers. There has been a small increase in the number of under 19 year olds, though the proportion of adult apprentices at Level 2 (GCSE level) continues to be just as high. At Advanced Level the majority of apprentice starts are now by those under 25, although at just 35 000, the amount of under 19 year olds is only a fraction of those starting A-levels in full-time education. There has been a fall in Higher Level (equivalent to first year university) starts.  At less than 9000, these make up fewer than 3% of new apprenticeships.

New and undated apprenticeship specifications will be in place for 2018, designed by employer representatives across the various sectors, but, as our research argues, the main reason for the failure of apprenticeships to provide real alternatives for young people is a jobs and employment problem. With over 75 % of new jobs created being elementary or low-skilled, most employers don’t need apprentices.

Download the updated edition of the research  @

October 23, 2014

Now Milburn calls for more apprenticeships

Filed under: social mobility — sitemananger @ 6:12 pm
Social Mobility Tsar Alan Milburn

Social Mobility Tsar Alan Milburn

The latest ONS labour market statistics show large falls in youth unemployment –down 89 000 for 16-24 year olds, but still 16% and nearly three times the adult rate (  The 733 000 unemployed 16-24 year olds include 266 000 full-time students. A more accurate picture is provided by the number of 18-24 year olds not in full-time education.  Here joblessness is down by 63 000 a fall of nearly 200 000 compared to a year ago, with most of these having entered the labour force, yet unemployment for this group still stands at 12%, double the general rate.

As Alan Milburn’s latest Social Mobility Commission Report reminds us, the employment rate for young people remains below pre-recession levels with the number unemployed for over a year, almost double (  Milburn also recognises that falls in young people’s hourly rates of pay to levels recorded 15 years ago stop them making proper transitions to adulthood, consequently a quarter of 20-24 year olds still live with parents,  having  been  excluded from the housing market.  

Correctly identifying that many government efforts to improve the prospects for young workers have fallen well short of their objectives, Milburn’s report only touches on some of the longer term developments in the labour market, ‘The impact of technology and globalisation has reduced middle-skilled, well-paid jobs, whilst the demand for low-paid jobs has increased and is set to rise as current workers retire’ (p 175).

In otherwords, it’s the types of jobs as the availability of employment itself that limit chances of secure employment, let alone upward social mobility. If a third of graduates have to enter non graduate work, those less qualified are inevitably ‘bumped down’ into less skilled, lower paid employment. This situation will not be significantly altered by schools providing better careers advice or higher quality vocational education, some of the policies Milburn advocates.

Likewise, without a radically different approach to running the economy and regulating the labour market; one that challenges rather than simply attempts to adapt to global trends, Milburn’s call for half of all workplaces with ten or more employers to provide apprenticeships by 2020 will be as pie in the sky as David Cameron’s promise of another three million apprenticeships,  the day before (

New figures for 2013/14 show the overall number of apprenticeship falling and still only I in 3 started by those under 19. Many young people have neither an apprenticeship, or a university degree to fall back on.  



Letter  Patrick Ainley,  23/10/14

Download Second Edition of ‘A Great Training Robbery’  (

September 29, 2014

National Union of Teachers Manifesto

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:29 am

     Download                      manifesto-2014-1Stand up for Education

     More information

September 25, 2014

Ed Miliband and Apprenticeships

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 8:09 am


front_page_001                                      Latest research on apprenticeships 

Labour has promised to overhaul apprenticeships –correctly arguing that compared with the demand for them, there has been nowhere near enough and that most have been low level only lasting for a year, often in low paid sectors of the service economy rather than in manufacturing, engineering and construction. Until recently also, many employers have converted existing employees into apprentices –allowing training providers to access state funding and government to meet its targets.

This is the context behind Ed Miliband’s conference speech in which the Labour leader  promised to increase apprentice numbers to levels equivalent  to the 400 000 plus young people who  start university every year. But the announcement also tallies with Labour’s plans to create vocational alternatives, including a Techbacc, for the ‘forgotten 50%’ not going on to Higher Education.

With 200 000 apprenticeship starts by under 24 year olds in the nine months to April this year and a 10 year time span, Miliband’s promise might appear quite realistic,  yet barely half of these have been at Advanced Level, with just  2,300 at Higher (the equivalent level to university study). Also, only 20 000 of the Advanced starts have been in manufacturing and engineering. 

Though Labour proposes to ensure that all firms in receipt of government contracts take on apprentices, ensuring real growth of high quality schemes will require much more. It will need to be part of an alternative plan for the economy and Labour isn’t providing one. Instead, it’s proposing an austerity plan centred on reducing the deficit, which will also have implications for apprenticeship funding.

Miliband’s proposal is a step in the right direction, but without a proper plan for job creation that provides real incentives for employers to develop employee skills, it risks being another empty promise.



September 23, 2014

More young people now working. But in what and for what?

Filed under: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 7:37 am

mcdonalds_workers_gi_topThe latest labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics for May to September   (  show significant falls in unemployment amongst 16-24 years – down to 747 000 (16.6%) from 960 000 (12%)  a year ago and from 853 000 over the last quarter. Amongst  those between 18-24 year who are not in full-time education, which is a more reliable indicator, as the above  figures include full-time students also looking for work, an additional 165 000 have entered employment of some kind.

Though it’s still twice the rate of unemployment as a whole, the dip in youth joblessness is to be welcomed,  yet in the post-crash labour market, the type of employment available is as increasingly significant as the availability of employment in general. Of those 16-24 year olds not in full-time education for example, only around 15% are currently participating in apprenticeships.

As the ONS  data shows, almost all of the increase  in  70 000 overall increase in employment in the last quarter can be explained by the increase in part-time work; while nearly 400 000 of the 1.12 million more jobs between June 13 and June 14 have been self-employed –though this has mostly involved older workers.  In addition  the increase in the total number of jobs has been heavily concentrated in sectors where jobs are low skill and low paid.

Recent evidence from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that it is the income of young people between 22-30 that have suffered most since 2008 ( by 13% compared with 6% for those 31-59. The ONS reports that of those young people under 25 who are not in full-time education in work, 19% work in ‘elementary’ occupations and a further 17% in ‘customer service’ occupations and a further 12% in ‘caring and leisure’ –all low paid sectors of the economy. ( According to the TUC, the number of young people trapped in low-paid, low-skill jobs, has increased markedly over the past 20 years. The report blames the huge rise in low-skilled work on the collapse of middle-income jobs, such as administrative and plant and manufacturing jobs in recent decades.

Young women in particular are getting a lower wage return on their qualifications. Despite being better qualified than young men (, just one in a hundred young women worked in skilled trades in 2011, compared to one in five young men. And four times more young women (21 per cent) worked in personal service occupations like hairdressing, leisure and the travel industry in 2011 than young men (5 per cent). More than one in five women earning less than £7.44 per hour were educated to degree level (

Traditionally , at least for many people, employment used to lead to income progression after a training period has been completed. Significantly, the  IFS data shows that the income the under 30s is not rising in the way that it has traditionally done so –reflecting the increased number of young people in ‘dead end’ jobs where there are few prospects of progression or promotion.

Increasing spending on better education and training, is important but in itself is not enough to change this.  The UK is already well on the way to becoming a ‘graduate economy’ but almost half of those leaving university do not go into graduate jobs, while the slow growth in apprenticeships  is largely because most employers don’t  really need them. Improvements to young people’s employment opportunities will only really take place through radical changes to the economy and to the way the labour market works.



September 19, 2014

More on Apprenticeships…….

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 8:19 am


Apprenticeship numbers continue to fall.

Postscript to Another Great Training Robbery?

September 13, 2014

Reshuffling education policy: the new vocationalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 7:17 am

 Patrick Ainley  11 September 2014   Open Democracy

A liberal approach in neo-liberal times means learning about work and not just learning to work. Westminster remains stuck in a rut of recycling failed ideas entirely unsuited to its economic model of low wage, low skill work.

Earlier this summer education secretary Michael Gove was pushed out of the Cabinet while universities minister David Willetts jumped. In the run up to the general election, this suggested a new Coalition approach to schools, colleges and universities that, with Labour’s recent proposal for ‘institutes of technical education’, is now shared with the Opposition. Unfortunately for those who hold liberal aspirations in neo-liberal times, it is as illiberal as the old approach, if not more so.

The new direction was initially revealed by Matthew Hancock, former minister in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (who was later reshuffled as a fervent fracker into the Department of Energy and Climate Change). He had previously declared that, in order to ‘rebalance’ school-leaver destinations, ‘university or apprenticeship will be the new norm’ for all 18+ year-olds. With the raising of the participation age (in school, FE and training) to 18 next year, Hancock’s ‘new norm’ presents all school-leavers with just two options – apprentice or student.

Gove and Willetts also considered these two groups needed ‘rebalancing’ because they thought New Labour’s widening participation in HE had allowed too many youngsters into university. Gove tried to reverse this by driving a hierarchy of semi-privatised state schools to compete in delivering a grammar school curriculum that would fail all but a few. He also thought such universal academic schooling would restart social mobility.

This is an illusion because the short period of limited upward social mobility in the last century has given way to general downward mobility in this one. Especially since 2008, numbers in low-paid, insecure and often part-time jobs have ratcheted up to include perhaps half of new entrants to employment. This fuels public hysteria about academic exams that function as proxies for more or less expensively acquired cultural capital as students desperately run up a down-escalator of inflating qualifications to avoid falling into the structural insecurity beneath.

The policy and professional consensus solution is that apprenticeships should be brought back to create an economy as productive as Germany’s. But this is another illusion because, such is the dominance of the UK’s deregulated and semi-skilled service sector, most employers don’t want or need apprentices. Thus most 18+ year olds are already overqualified for and underemployed in the jobs on offer.

This includes the graduates Willetts also intended to reduce in numbers by tripling student fees. But, rather than fewer, more school leavers took out loans for fees that added £191 billion to government debt. They did so in the hope of secure, more or less ‘professional’ employment rather than so-called ‘apprenticeships’, which, as my report with Martin Allen shows, adds up to  Another Great Training Robbery like YTS in the 1980s.

Willetts tried repeatedly but failed to sell the growing mountain of student debt. He even claimed after his resignation he could sell the debt to the universities themselves. Some richer universities could then profit by selling loans to their own graduates who could be charged higher fees as they might get good enough jobs to repay them. But what of universities where many students are unemployed or in low-paid jobs after graduation?

Nearly all universities are in desperate competition to cram in students who are paying more for less. This includes widening participation that has extended to two-year degrees and other associated qualifications through training providers in partner schools and colleges, like Thatcherite revenant Kenneth Baker’s University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Linked to a 14+ ‘technical route’ leading to ‘vocational A-levels’ and reinvented foundation degrees, this bipartism could replace Gove’s delusions in ‘grammar schools for all’ – back to secondary technical schools and the polytechnics! The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has already announced more UTCs to bring the total to around 50 by May 2015 but Labour wants to double this.

Indeed, Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt has now proposed a Technical Baccalaureate for the half of 14+ school students who don’t make it onto the academic route, rebranding FE colleges as ‘Institutes of Technical Education’ with new part-time Technical Degrees, like the current two-year Foundation Degrees and old HNDs. This ‘higher level apprenticeship’ route is offered to supplement apprenticeships which Labour knows are not all they are cracked up to be – despite the expensive, glossy and misleading advertising for them.

Nor can England’s 249 surviving general FE colleges that have not yet merged or closed expect to benefit by providing apprentice training to school leavers as they once did because most apprenticeships nowadays are run by training agents outside the colleges on behalf of employers. Nevertheless, in a recent paper for the Social Market Foundation, Liam Byrne, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, hopes to ‘Reboot Robbins’ by replacing market-driven expansion with regional partnerships to end the ‘ferocious’ competition between universities, colleges and private providers.

But the problem remains that, however ‘employable’ schools, colleges and universities claim to make their graduates, education cannot guarantee employment. So, fundamentally the perception of ‘the problem’ needs to change: from being one where young people are seen as having to be prepared for ‘employability’ by earlier and earlier specialization for vocations that may not exist. Instead, the starting point should be a common general but not academic schooling to 18 giving entitlement to progression for citizens ‘fit for a variety of labours’.

This implies confronting the possibilities of flexibility but avoiding the current situation in which there are more people in the workforce but many are paid little for unregulated employment. Of course, this would require an alternative economic framework but not necessarily ‘the right to work’ with which the orthodox left continues to operate in a post-war collectivised model of the labour market.

Rather, a liberal approach in neo-liberal times means learning about work and not just learning to work. Paradoxically, for universities this means refinding the vocational nature of the higher education preserved by the most prestigious subjects at the most elite institutions, as in the ‘original vocations’ of Law and Medicine. Importantly, this includes an academic vocation dedicated to learning critically from the past with research and scholarship enabling change in the future. Undergraduates can contribute to that continuing cultural conversation, giving them a sense that many have lost of what higher education is supposed to be about.

Byrne’s proposals offer at least some possibility of HE recovering itself in connection with FE to build what has been called ‘A Liberal Vocationalism’ that is both theoretically informed and practically competent. But, unless this is related to economic reform to end austerity and the continued slide into low-wage, low-skill employment, these proposals risk repeating the failures to rebuild a vocational route to replace the industrial apprenticeships lost in the 1970s but this time at a tertiary level of learning. Or, worse still, they may involve forcing young people failed by an academic schooling into inferior vocational options with Chuku Umuna’s shameful promise to cut Job Seekers’ Allowance for under-25s ‘to plug the young unemployed into the global economy’

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