rethinking education, economy and society

September 29, 2014

National Union of Teachers Manifesto

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:29 am

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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’

September 4, 2014

Downloads from

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 11:31 am




coalicover-3     Now available as free downloads



August 27, 2014

Tristram Hunt and ‘Two Nation’ Labour.

Filed under: Labour's policies — sitemananger @ 8:22 am
Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt

untitled1Vocational 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  (, 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’ (

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 ( 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 (,  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

Book Review: The People, The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010

Filed under: Books — sitemananger @ 6:32 am


Patrick Ainley

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  (


August 19, 2014

The high growth – low wage puzzle.

Filed under: Economy — sitemananger @ 8:51 pm

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  ( – 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 ( 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 ( 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’ ( In fact, if the earnings of all self-employed people were included in pay data, wage levels would be shown to have fallen further (

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 (

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  ( it’s inequality rather than growth that’s the main issue in the economy.


August 15, 2014

A-level of uncertainty

Filed under: A-levels and the Pre-U — sitemananger @ 8:01 am

Another year of university ‘clearing’ swings into gear; but it now takes a very different form compared to when originauntitledlly 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 (   

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 ( 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  ( and

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’.  (  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.


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