February 3, 2016
January 25, 2016
Following 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criticism of ‘one size fits all’ academic learning, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has criticised state schools for ‘outdated snobbery’ and promised a new law that ensures they promote technical education and apprenticeships as real alternatives to university.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 2016
Download from http://www.radicaledbks.com
January 19, 2016
Academic education for some. Vocational courses for the others. Wilshaw’s answer to ‘One size fits all’
In a widely reported speech to the think-tank Centre Forum, Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw has slammed the ‘One-size-fits-all’ emphasis on traditional academic subjects by secondary schools, declaring that this ‘will never deliver the range of success that their youngsters need’ https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/ambitions-for-education-sir-michael-wilshaw Wilshaw is not promoting a more student friendly type of learning though, far from it –he despises the ‘misguided ideologies’ of ‘miserable decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s’ which, he maintains allowed children to ‘pick out their worksheet and learn at their own speed’. Instead, he argues that the current secondary curriculum offer prevents ‘less academic’ students from getting the high quality vocational education to get them ready for the workplace, citing other countries with well-developed vocational pathways.
Barely a year ago, Wilshaw told a CBI conference that pupils should transfer to different schools at 14 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11238974/Ofsted-chief-stream-pupils-by-ability-at-the-age-of-14.html. Dissident Tory Kenneth Baker continues to argue this, gaining cross party support for his University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Now, Wilshaw, careful to avoid controversy about restoring grammar schools, says that vocational specialisation should take place within a ‘truly comprehensive’ system with schools working together in clusters and federations, rather than through the LEA, which would include a UTC, allowing students to ‘transfer across institutions’(!)
Many supporters of comprehensive education would consider the creation of vocational streams and certainly separate schools as a return to the ideas of the 1944 Act, yet Wishaw does appear to be right in his assertion that Germany and Switzerland, countries with established vocational pathways have much lower rates of youth unemployment. Yet this is mainly because these countries, particularly Germany, have a much more regulated youth labour market where vocational education is linked to an apprenticeship system which requires part-time attendance at specialist colleges, but more importantly, largely guarantees future employment for those who complete their training.
In Germany, this is part of a wider ‘social partnership’, which despite its limitations and the Neo-liberal outlook of most of its leaders’ stands in sharp contrast to the UK (and US) ‘market sate’ approach. Wilshaw, like others, point to the low quality of many vocational courses, but the real problem is that UK employers have never had the same commitment to vocational education, preferring to recruit candidates with higher status academic qualifications instead. This is the reason why young people, despite fees, sign up for university in droves. Compared to those in Germany and Switzerland, UK apprenticeships are short-term, low-level and dead-end with employers as likely to convert existing staff to apprenticeship status to access government funding as they are to offer young people real employment opportunities
Rather than spend money on lengthy apprenticeship training, UK employers also know they can recruit from a bulging graduate labour force, many of whom are being pushed down into the ‘middling’ jobs that vocational, technical and apprenticeship training has traditionally been associated with. But it’s also the case that many of these middling jobs have continued to disappear anyway as a result of developments in technology. This process being much further advanced in the UK (and the US), compared with Germany for example, which has been able to maintain a stronger manufacturing base and slow down the process of de-industrialisation.
In these circumstances and without other major economic and political changes, it’s unlikely that hiving off students into vocational courses will improve their employment chances or that young people will be persuaded to sign up for this sort of pathway. Baker’s UTCs continue to open but several are finding it difficult to recruit a full cohort. What’s needed is a good general education for everybody, but this also requires major reform of academic learning –something that most curriculum reformers have not been prepared to address. Wilshaw like Baker and for that matter, the CBI leaders who complain about schools becoming ‘exam factories’, is not critical of the E-Bacc itself, he wants to preserve ‘high-level academic study’ as a form of learning for the few. For these guys, vocational alternatives are always for other people’s children –never their own.
December 8, 2015
Some three years after the BBC’s Panorama dramatically exposed the misuse of apprenticeship funding by the supermarket chain Morrison; this week’s Channel 4 Dispatches provided further disturbing evidence of how young people continue to be short changed, but also public money misspent, despite government reassurances that the reintroduction of apprenticeships has been a resounding success. Dispatches main target was the clothing chain Next, where young people taken on as ‘apprentices’ complained of low-pay, little if no proper training and worst of all, not even being given permanent employment at the end. Meanwhile, the company had continued to receive government funding – £1.8 million last year – to run a training program now rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
A Great Training Robbery
Using research by the Social Market Foundation, including that by Alison Wolf, commissioned to provide a review of vocational education by the Coalition in 2010, Dispatches argued that training organisations, in order to maximise their income have concentrated on providing low-skilled, but also ‘easy to complete’ and ‘easy to deliver’ apprenticeships in sectors like retailing; encouraging employers to use apprentices as a form of cheap labour without having any obligation to offer them future employment. These sorts of practices, do not, the SMF argues, significantly increase future earnings of the individual and they certainly don’t help the ‘skills shortage’ in areas like engineering or in construction (where apprentice numbers have fallen by a third since 2010) and where growth is essential if future economic prosperity is to be ensured.
As Dispatches acknowledged, the government plans to introduce a levy of large firms raising £2 billion annually, thus providing the funds for better, more advanced training to provide ‘the right people with the right skills’. It also intends to give individual employers more say over the content of apprenticeship training and how funding is used. But as these changes are not due to begin till 2017 at the earliest, the program concluded that in the meantime, young people could be just as likely to vote with their feet.
Dispatches and the SMF can be commended for continuing to expose the shortcomings of apprenticeships, particularly in the light of David Cameron’s pre-election promise of another 3 million by 2020. The failure of apprenticeships to provide real alternatives for young people has been largely ignored by most researchers, campaigners and activists who prefer to focus attention and energy on the inequities of the education system or the increasingly desperate plight of teachers. But it’s also the case that compared with the angry young school leavers parked on Youth Training Schemes in the 1980s, ‘apprentices’ are a diverse group, including people of different ages –many existing employers over 25 continue to be reclassified as apprentices so that training funds can be accessed –with very different experiences in different sectors. As well as thousands being like those at Next, there are also some very good schemes offering excellent training and real opportunities.
A jobs not a skills problem
Yet as well as giving apprenticeships a much greater profile, there’s also a serious need to develop a much wider understanding about their current limitations. Improving the quality and attractiveness of apprenticeships for example will be difficult without making other changes to the economy and the job structure which supports them. If thousands of apprentices are employed as counter assistants in Next, in coffee-shops, or in low-paid ‘customer service’ work, it’s in these sectors where many new jobs are being created. Likewise the reason why there are so few apprenticeships in engineering and in manufacturing is because only around 8% of the workforce are employed here. It’s not just that these sectors have collapsed as a result of overseas competition or extensive ‘outsourcing’, increased automation and the use of robotics also mean that the ‘traditional skills’ referred to by Dispatches will no longer be sought –regardless of whether there is funding available. In otherwords it’s essential that alternative proposals for apprenticeship training (and education for that matter) are part of a wider alternative for the economy in which new types of employment opportunities are both properly planned, properly funded and allow both career and personal development. With a third of the population over 65 by 2050 for example, replacing the current decrepit care service with modern professionally staffed alternative, could be one place to start.
November 30, 2015
George Osborne’s decision to impose an apprenticeship levy on large firms represents a significant change in policy. In Germany and other European countries, employers are required to make a significant cost towards the cost of apprenticeship and skills training. Under Osborne’s scheme, employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million will have to make a payroll deduction of 0.5%. The scheme is expected to raise close to £3 billion –double the current size of the apprenticeship training budget.
Even though a step in the right direction, imposing a levy in itself is not enough to upgrade Britain’s ailing apprenticeships. Unlike in Germany, where agreements exist between employers, trade unions and state institutions, ensuring apprenticeships provide real transitions to work, UK firms will still not be compelled to offer them and certainly not high-skilled ones.Though well over 2 million apprenticeships have been offered since 2010 –David Cameron promises 3 million more –the majority have been ‘low-skilled’ and ‘dead-end’ –mostly at Intermediate (GCSE) Level, without guaranteeing progression to employment or further training. Significant evidence also shows that firms have reclassified existing workers to be able to access training funds . This has allowed government to meet targets. Last year, for example, only 120 000 under 19 year olds began apprenticeships. This can be compared to up to 60% of young Germans –mostly at Advanced Level.
FE gets off lightly?
There’s much relief that a further round of cuts will not decimate the FE sector as Osborne told MPs that core funding for FE (and Sixth Form colleges) will be protected. But the protection is in cash-terms and as there may be falling numbers of students because of demographic changes, colleges fill face reductions. The extension of the FE loans system to 19 to 23-year-olds raises as many questions as it provides answers as does the ‘opportunity’ for Sixth-Form Colleges to become Academies so as to be able to avoid VAT payments.
A ‘truce’ with austerity?
Because of growing opposition endangering his own ambitions to become the next prime Minister, Osborne made a significant U-turn on tax-credits. Does this represent a fundamental change in course, or at least a ‘truce’ with austerity? Not at all. The Chancellor has been given extremely optimistic forecasts by the ‘neutral’ Office for Budget Responsibility (OBS) about future economic performance, that growth will be 2.4% for this year and next and that investment levels will continue to steadily increase.
As a result Osborne’s been allowed what the Financial Times (26/11/15) described as a ‘£27bn emergency exit route’ that allows him to retain his target for a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament –but more importantly, to continue to shrink the size and the role of the state to levels not seen since the 1930s. But previous OBS predictions have not always been correct, with the highly respected Institute of Fiscal Studies, continuing to provide the clearest opposition to the government on economic policy, telling The Guardian (28/11/15) that it was only ’50-50’ that Osborne would not have too revisit his plans.
November 18, 2015
Despite performance levels in education being higher than ever, some continue to bang on about skills shortages and about young people not being ‘ready for work’. According to the British Chamber of Commerce for example, two-thirds of businesses believe that secondary schools are not effective in preparing young people for employment and could do more to get them onto the career level. According to the BCC director John Longworth ‘ high youth unemployment and business skills gaps are a cause for national embarrassment…..preparing students to face potential employers should be given the same level of priority as academic achievement in schools’. But is there a skills shortage and can schools and colleges be seen as contributing to this?
In the UK, unemployment continues to fall –almost reaching the level it stood at before the 2008 economic downturn. But it’s also the case that pay rises remain subdued – with increases of just below 2.5% during the last year. If there were significant skills shortage in the economy, this would not be the case. Skill shortages would mean employers bidding up. According to the highly regarded Certified Institute of Personnel and Development ( CIPD) while half of employers may have hiring issues, only about a tenth of current vacancies are ‘hard to fill’ with the most common way of filling these being upskilling and upgrading existing employees.
This does not mean there are not particular difficulties in particular sectors like the construction industry and in parts of manufacturing and in parts of the public sector where training budgets have been cut back. But according to CIPD only about a third of hard to fill vacancies – in otherwords just 5% – are due to skill shortages. As the post below emphasises, employers continue to rely on new supplies of labour to fill low-skilled, low-paid vacancies.
The CIPD data reflects a more general trend –that employees are just as likely to be over-qualified for the work that is available. The most recent UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) skills survey reported large numbers of workers not being able to, or not needing to use their skills. This is partly because of the large number of graduates being pushed down into non-graduate work, but it’s also because as the CIPD previously reported, one in five of UK work roles only required a primary education and employment data shows that it is slow skilled work that is expanding the fastest.
So it’s difficult to argue that schools and colleges are holding back economic growth and that young people are not suitably prepared for work, though this doesn’t mean that the status of vocational learning should not be improved its content broadened and that the cutbacks in work experience placements should not be reversed. These should all be part of a ‘general education’ that could replace the narrow academic learning which the CBI recently argued was not relevant to the needs of the 21st century.