Education, economy and society – blog comment from Martin Allen

April 14, 2016

Two more contributions about a basic (citizens) income

Filed under: Economy — sitemananger @ 7:06 pm

The Guardian’s John Harris (April 14th 2016)

The RSA’s  Anthony Painter (March 31st 2016)


April 10, 2016

A Living Wage or a Citizens Income

Filed under: Economy — sitemananger @ 9:01 pm

The introduction of a statutory Living Wage – at £7.20 an hour a 50p increase on the old minimum wage – should be a cause for celebration, particularly if it is due to be increased to £9 an hour by 2020. Instead it’s received a cautious welcome because of the huge degree of uncertainty about who it will really benefit. Though some estimates show that over 6 million workers are currently paid less it’s possible that only about 1 in 5 of these will probably gain directly.

Many of those who won’t, belong to the ‘cash in hand’ informal economy, some will become converted to ‘self-employed’ status though continuing to be dependent on their previous ‘employer’ for an income. Others will suffer a cut in hours, even lose their jobs completely, while workers under 25 will not benefit at all. It’s also been calculated that 2 million families could lose up to £1,600 anyway as a result of cuts to tax credits.

Some of the most ferocious opposition to the new requirement has come from employers organisations. Though it’s certainly  true that many large firms continue to make ‘super profits’ at the expense of their employees,  to pay big  bonuses to managers and shareholders large dividends, it is also the case that, particularly  in the more labour intensive parts of the service sector, there are layers of small scale operators who are dependent on low pay and an endless supply of overseas labour, to run what are basically hand to mouth businesses with low profit margins, with no desire to invest in workforce training;  but at the time reminding us they are crucial in ‘providing jobs’.

In the care industry,  cash strapped local authorities who are forced to rely on poor quality private sector providers, fear there may be a shortage of places as care firms cut back – it’s estimated that over one in ten care workers should be entitled to an increase in pay. A new government committed to social justice, rather than the current ‘austerity’ would want to invest heavily in social care, put provision under some form of social ownership or even make it part of an expanded NHS – upping workforce skills and establishing a proper career structure. 

But this type of intervention is much more difficult in other sectors – hotel and catering and retail are two –where low and irregular pay predominates and where the downside of further regulation could also be increased unemployment. Of course, employers could be subsidised but there would be no guarantee this would lead to higher pay for employees.  So, is a greatly expanded tax credit system going well beyond anything attempted by Gordon Brown the only alternative?  Rather than depending on employers, this would make the state responsible for mediating the effects of low pay.

A more radical approach, would be to give serious consideration to a basic ‘citizens income’ for everybody in addition to any income received from work –something that has been the subject of considerable discussion by greens, but rarely finds its way into labour movement or trade union circles, even if major issues remain about the level, the funding and particularly about whether there should be any social obligations in exchange for receiving it.

More significantly discussion about alternative sources of income will have to become integral to debate about the long term impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the future of work. Certainly as robots become less and less expensive, low paid and relatively routine jobs across the service sector could quickly be eliminated. But, if as is now being increasingly recognised, many skilled, professional and managerial jobs will also lose out in the ‘race against the machine’ then traditional social democratic political strategies  that emphasise the importance of  ‘decent jobs and good wages’ as the driver of prosperity will likely die with them.

March 29, 2016

Debate about the Highers continues

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 2:08 pm


March 24, 2016

Apprenticeship figures don’t match the optimism

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 3:23 pm
Skills Minister Boles

Skills Minister Nick  Boles

The government’s ParliamentToday website (23/03/16)  has attempted the usual ‘spin’ with  the latest apprenticeship figures, pointing to  84 000  starts by under 19 year olds between August 2015 and January 2016  and to 366,000  across all levels and age groups during the current parliament.  Skills Minister Nick Boles also told the site there has been a ‘dramatic increase in the number of higher apprenticeships’ with 11 000 more starts since last August.

In fact the total number of new starts (251 000)  for the last six months just about keeps up with the 500 000 starts for the previous twelve, while  those  by under 19 year olds only just tops the figure for the same period  last year (83,400) .  As for Mr Boles dramatic increase in Highers, only about a third of these starts were by people under 25.

Based on these latest figures, the government will struggle to reach the 3 million it has promised for 2020 -and it’s still the case that 60% of new starts continue to be at Intermediate Level, a standard most school leavers have already reached

March 22, 2016

The EBacc and Progress 8

Filed under: 14-19 — sitemananger @ 11:57 am


There will be a new headline performance measure for secondary schools from September 2016.  Schools will no longer be ranked according to the number of students passing achieving 5 A* to C GCSEs. Instead, Attainment 8   data will record the average score for their year 11 students across 8 subjects.  More significantly they will have to publish data for Progress 8   – a new value added measurement.  The Department for Education has invited schools to ‘opt in’ and provide Progress 8   data for 2015 – over 300 have done so[1].  As well as Attainment 8 and Progress 8 data, 2016 performance tables will also include the percentage of students achieving grade C in English and mathematics as well as the English Baccalaureate. 

For 2016, a   student’s   Attainment 8   is calculated on the following basis. 1 is equivalent to a grade G at GCSE with 8 equivalent to an A*[2].  Mathematics is double weighted, as is English, provided   the student has also been entered for English Literature.  The student is then scored on three EBacc subjects and then three other GCSE or recognised vocational qualifications.  Individual subject scores are totalled and then divided by 10 (because of the double weighting).  A student scoring 4.5 in 2016  for example would be performing between a  D and a C in their individual GCSEs

A   student’s   Progress 8   score will take on more significance. Performance levels at the end of KS4   will be compared with those at the end of KS2.  A student producing  a positive value- added return will be performing above the level expected by students with an equivalent  KS2 performance  and this will be expressed as a positive number [3]  A school’s Progress 8 score will be the average score for its student cohort.  For all mainstream students it will be expected to be at least zero.  If a school is 0.5% below its ‘floor standard’ the school may come under scrutiny by Ofsted

 What are the implications of Progress 8?

The government argues that because the new system is based on eight subjects it is broader than the EBacc and could mean the creative arts subjects are no longer squeezed out of curriculum. Also, because a student can include three vocational subjects in their score, it could represent a move away from a ‘one size fits all’ academic education in the way that Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wishaw appears to want[4]  In response to this however, a number of concerns can be identified.

Firstly, not completing the EBacc, will make it very difficult to record a positive progress 8 score.  Schools will recognise this and concentrate resources accordingly. Secondly it’s unrealistic for Year 11 subject targets to be based on English and maths tests completed in Year 6.  Progress 8 does not necessarily increase the chances of artistic and creative non-EBacc subjects returning to the curriculum. Schools will be reluctant to reintroduce these as it is likely results will be included in students’ scores immediately without there being the space for new courses to become properly established. Progress 8 is unlikely to encourage schools diversify their vocational provision. Instead they will continue to concentrate on the subject areas where they have expertise.  To count in performance tables, vocational courses have had to take on many of the characteristics of academic qualifications. A student completing a non-recognised vocational course will score nothing[5].

Progress 8 will lead, almost inevitably to a further increase in the role of data and of those responsible for collecting it, in driving the curriculum.  For example, data managers may insist that every student is entered (even if not properly prepared) for English Literature, to enable the doubling of their English score. Finally, Progress 8   can only increase in workload stress and cause a performance management nightmare with individual student attainment targets replacing group averages. In most schools, all of a student’s GCSE results will be included.

There are lots of unresolved issues surrounding Progress 8 on which teachers will need to remain vigilant. 


[1] For a list of schools that have, see

[2] The numerical calculations will change when the new 1-9 GCSE grading system is introduced from 2017.

[3] See the DfE  Guide (page 16/17) for details of this calculation

[4] Michael Wilshaw speech to Centreforum 18/01/16                                     

[5] The numbers of vocational qualifications that qualify for performance tables have been severely reduced and no longer count as ‘multiple’ GCSEs. See:

March 20, 2016

Social mobility’s ups and downs

Filed under: social mobility — sitemananger @ 4:55 pm

Sociologist John Goldthorpe’s  argument  that  decades of investment in education have not improved social mobility, deserves to be taken seriously, given his position as one of the leading authorities  (if not the leading authority)  in this area. and ladders

Goldthorpe argues  that improvement in ‘relative’ social  mobility –an increase in the improvement in educational chances of less privileged groups vis a vis others –which would make society more of a ‘meritocracy’  would also  have to involve significant amounts of individual downward mobility for those in the middle and even the upper reaches of society to compensate for  upward mobility from below   As Goldthorpe explains though, ‘parents in more advantaged class positions will respond to any expansion or reform of the education system  by using superior resources –economic, cultural and social –to help their children retain a competitive edge’. Thus this type of relative mobility has continued to be minimal

In contrast, as previous posts to this blog have argued, it was the changes to the occupational structure in the post-war years, particularly the growth of managerial and professional work, which enabled, in fact necessitated a significant amount of ‘absolute’ upward mobility. For this type of mobility to be re-established, as Goldthorpe argues, more ‘top end’ jobs would need to be generated. But now at the start of the twenty-first century this is not happening and on the contrary a new pattern of downward mobility has emerged, as many of those with qualifications which would previously would have allowed them to move up, now find that education becomes like trying to move up a downwards escalator –where you have to move faster and faster merely to stand still.

A recent Ipsos Mori poll for example, shows that 54% of Britons believe young people will be worse off than previous generations leading social mobility tsar Alan Milburn to conclude

“This idea that the succeeding generation would do better than the previous generation is part of the glue that binds, as has been the notion that if you put in effort, you get a reward. Certainly I was brought up to believe that if you stuck in at school, you’d get on in life.

“Unfortunately, there’s pretty compelling data to suggest that that may no longer be the case and that has got huge consequences for social cohesion in our country. It almost feels like we’re facing an existential crisis about what sort of society we want to be,”   (Guardian 12/03/16) 

 Education: a crisis of legitimacy

The belief that each generation does better than the previous generation has been fundamental to the justification behind educational expansion during the second half of the 20th century. Even if the increased opportunities  to ‘get on’ were  the result of changes in the occupational structure and an expanding economy, new types of qualifications and less selective schools  were still the vehicle through which this process operated and continued to give education ‘legitimacy’.

But now, the emergence of a generation of young people now ‘overqualified and underemployed’ has led to a crisis for an education  system  that  promotes, encourages and  celebrates   ‘achievement’ Instead there is  a re-emphasis on education being about social control. In the upper years of secondary education, exams are being made more ‘rigorous’ so that it is harder to get the higher grades, subject choice has become narrower and traditional ‘end of course’ examination style assessment has been restored in place of more open ‘modular’ learning and coursework. All these are enshrined in the EBacc, which though officially imposed on schools to ‘raise standards’, will, as many teachers recognise, limit opportunities and cement boundaries between those that pass and those that fail.

With constant attacks on the post-war model of education, it’s not surprising that education struggles continue to be largely defensive, but as the traditional expectations   about what education is supposed to enable, continue to crumble, progressive alternative education strategies will need new aims and objectives.

February 25, 2016

Higher Level Apprenticeships:  A slow start.

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 9:03 am

David Cameron qualified his pledge to create three million more apprenticeships with ‘That’s three million more engineers, accountants, project managers’ Expanding the Higher Level apprenticeship  will be considered fundamental to this, with the then Business Secretary, Vince Cable arguing at its 2012 launch that:

‘Investing in skills is central to our drive to boost business and productivity and make the UK more competitive… by radically expanding the number of degree level apprenticeships for young people, we will put practical learning on a level footing with academic study. This is an essential step that will help rebalance our economy and build a society in which opportunity and reward are fairly and productively distributed.’

                (DBIS Press Release 08/12/11)

Higher Level qualifications were established as Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications, equivalent to foundation degree study and above. Though it is possible to provide these through a workplace NVQ, employers were also encouraged to work with higher education institutions. There are some schemes like those at BBC where apprentices complete a course of university study, but the influence of private providers is also apparent.

As part of the new Trailblazer initiative –where apprenticeship training schemes are being  rewritten to ensure higher levels of quality and to be more in line with specific employer requirements –degree  level apprenticeships are now also being established  with specifications soon available for everything from quantity surveying and accountancy  to solicitor  training. These will be designed to work with higher education institutions, not in competition with them.

The main problem is not about the design however. Though the number of Higher Level apprenticeship starts have continued to increase significantly, they still represent only a tiny fraction of the total number however – SFA data showing under 30,000 in existence at the end of 2014/15. With 19,300 starts during 2014/15, there were just over 1,000 starts by those under 19 and 15,000 by those under 25 or over.  In the three months between August and October 2015, another 800 under 19 year olds started a Higher Level apprenticeship  compared with the 250 000 placed in university for the new academic year.

The only sectors where Higher Level apprenticeships have any visible presence is in health and business management. They are virtually non-existent in engineering and manufacturing. Those employers that have wanted to, have continued to sponsor university students, so it is not clear why they would want to establish Higher Level apprenticeships instead. Secondly, the huge increase in the number of graduates means that employers have much less of a need to protect their future labour supply. Rather than employers finding it difficult to attract highly qualified graduates the issue for the current generation is to avoid being pushed down out of graduate employment.

With two thirds of apprentice starts continuing to be at intermediate Level, this mean that although schools have been criticised for not promoting them, apprenticeships are not an alternative to higher education for young people and schools should not pretend they are. With so few Higher Level starts also, the effect of apprenticeships on universities, even  the  ‘new’ post-92 institutions many of whom have a strong vocational emphasis, continues to remain unclear

February 22, 2016

The rise and fall of vocational education

Filed under: 14-19 — sitemananger @ 4:28 pm

thFull-time vocational education courses developed in colleges and school sixth-forms in response to increased staying on rates from the 1980s.  They were seen as alternatives to academic learning and offered through training organisations like City & Guilds and BTEC now long since subsumed into larger examination awarding bodies.  They concentrated on particular occupational areas, particularly those in the growing service and business sectors. They also included a number of ‘generic’ or ‘soft’ skills like ‘team working’ and ‘personal development’ which, it was argued, were now essential in the changing workplace.  Delivered through assignments and projects.– the ‘new vocationalism’  as it became known, was generally considered to be a progressive pedagogy with many young people liking to learn this way.

Vocational qualifications also became an integral part of the KS4   curriculum –the first stage of a ‘vocational pathway’ proposed by Sir Ron Dearing as part of his review of the National Curriculum in the 1990s. The current  University Technical Colleges (UTCs)  directed by Kenneth (now Lord) Baker, which offer specialist 14-19 education  are a continuation of this approach.  Though designed to help in the transition to work,   Advanced Level   vocational qualifications have been used for entry to higher education – to the ‘new’ universities, rather than elite institutions.   Vocational qualifications  have also been included in school league tables, counting as several GCSEs. As a result, many schools made them an additional part of the curriculum for students who had chosen academic courses.

Officially equal in status to academic qualifications, research continued to show that it is lower performing students who are enrolled on vocational courses. Vocational qualifications have also   been criticised for lacking ‘rigour’ with the Wolf Review –commissioned by the Coalition – concluding that many lower level  vocational qualifications were ‘worthless’ in terms of increasing employment opportunities. It argued that young people would be better off learning in the workplace and doing apprenticeships.

The Coalition and now the Conservative government have been very harsh on vocational qualifications. To be included in performance tables and in the new ‘TechBacc’   they have had to meet certain requirements in relation to their content and the type of assessment they use. The old style BTEC qualifications loved by many teachers will no longer exist. Students on construction courses for example, are now required to study trigonometry and Pythagoras, with new Ofqual rules requiring a minimum 0f 25% external assessment.  The number of eligible qualifications has also been reduced. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that it’s likely to alienate many of the young people more engaged through  the vocational approach.

In other countries, vocational pathways have been linked to apprenticeships and employment training, in the UK this has not been the case.  Though employer representatives and Ofsted have called for more emphasis on vocational learning and a move away from a ‘one size fits all’ academic curriculum, there is certainly no evidence individual employers consider applicants with vocational qualifications to be more qualified for work.  On the contrary, research shows that, with a few exceptions, it’s the traditional academic subjects that have continued to have much greater status and attract the highest returns in the labour market.

Also, as the occupational structure changes and people are likely to  have a number of very different ‘careers’ during their working life, that’s if they are the lucky ones and are able to secure work at all after a new wave of digitalisation,  it’s questionable whether any specialist vocational study from a relatively  early age has any  benefit.  If vocational courses are to remain on the school curriculum it is important that they are part of a broad general education that covers a range of learning experiences. It also important that as well as just teaching how to, they cover a variety of issues about ‘work’ –its social context and changing nature.



February 3, 2016

Two new books on social class

Filed under: Books — sitemananger @ 9:11 am

Reviewed by Patrick Ainley for Marx & Philosophy Review of Books 

Erik Olin Wright (2015) Understanding Class. London: Verso. 260 pages. £14.99 pbk. ISBN: 978-1-78168-945-5

Mike Savage (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin Random House. 449 pages. £6.29 pbk. ISBN: 978-0-241-00422-7

michael-ainleyContradictory class locations?

Erik Olin Wright is a US sociologist who in his 1985 book Classes developed the moratorium idea that lengthening education (which happened first in the USA) effectively removes young people from the labour market and consequently any allocation by occupation that could situate them in a class. As explained and generalised to others in apparently increasingly fluid capitalist societies, they thereby occupied ‘contradictory locations within class relations’ and so were ‘simultaneously in more than one class… [with] contradictory interests pointing in opposite directions’ (as summarised in this new book on p.168), taking on characteristics attributed to Marx’s petit-bourgeoisie.

Wright also tried to integrate Marx with Weber who had argued that, as well as Marx’s class divisions based on ownership or non-ownership of capital, there were also groups with different ‘marketable skills’ in the labour market. Weber’s was therefore a more labile and adaptable description than the two Marxist classes of capitalists and proletarians. However, Wright proclaims in the preface to this book that ‘My own approach to class is firmly embedded in the Marxist tradition’ and he looks back over a long career to ‘clarify and appropriate what is valuable rather than simply discrediting the ideas of rival approaches… to try to systematically integrate those insights into a broader framework.’ Whether he is successful or not can be judged from his conclusions Read in full

January 25, 2016

Morgan instructs schools to promote apprenticeships.

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 9:52 am

thFollowing Ofsted Chief Michael Wilshaw’s criticism of ‘one size fits all’ academic learning,   Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has criticised state schools for ‘outdated snobbery’ and promised a new law that ensures they promote technical education and apprenticeships as real  alternatives to university. Morgan told the Independent:

‘For many young people going to university will be the right choice, and we are committed to continuing to expand access to higher education, but for other young people the technical education provided by apprenticeships will suit them better’.

But the government’s own figures have continued to show only a minority of the 2 million apprenticeships created since 2010 have been for school-leavers – in 2014/15 just 20% of starts were by those under 19. Well over half of new starts have also been ‘low-level’ (being offered at Intermediate level – equivalent to GCSE, a level that most school leavers have already reached) and ‘dead-end’ (not leading to permanent employment, or allowing progression to higher levels of training). Meanwhile, ‘cutting edge’ apprenticeships in engineering and technology for example, are massively oversubscribed.

 Even Ofsted has published a damning report about apprenticeship quality:

‘Inspectors, observed for example, apprentices in the food production, retail and care sectors who were simply completing their apprenticeship by having existing low-level skills, such as making coffee, serving sandwiches or cleaning floors, accredited.  While these activities are no doubt important to the everyday running of the businesses, as apprenticeships they do not add enough long-term value.’ (Ofsted, 2015: 4)

Morgan, like Wilshaw, is very good at spelling out  options for ‘other people’s children’ but with so few alternatives available for young people, then it isn’t surprising that, despite the fees, most of those who are able  will try  progress to university to improve their chances of any type of reliable employment.  Schools can hardly blamed for encouraging this.

Another  Great Training Robbery or a Real Alternative Alternative for Young People?

Rewritten and updated  January 2016front_page_001

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