Education, economy and society (blog comment from

March 26, 2015

Young people pile up the debts

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:52 am

Recent figures provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers show that ‘unsecured’ consumer debt rose 9% during 2014 –to nearly £10 000 per household, an all-time high.

Though £4 billion of the increase came from credit card spending, £9 billion (around 46% of the increase) came from student borrowing, with PwC estimating graduates who started courses after 2012  will owe an average of £40 000 to £50 000. Student loan repayments are linked to salary levels –currently there’s a £21 000 threshold and because many university leavers will never earn graduate salaries, some estimates suggest that up to 40% of this debt will never be fully paid off.  

Nevertheless, while these long term debts affect future borrowing potential and the chances of getting a mortgage,   a 2014 analysis by Citizens Advice showed more young people turning to pay day lenders to finance their immediate expenditure (this accounted for 62% of the ‘high-interest’ credit used by under 25s) and that 10% of all those with serious debt problems were in the 17-24 age group.

The Citizens Advice report also revealed that 1 in 3 of young people with ‘serious financial problems’ are in work –showing  that while youth unemployment may be officially falling, pay and the work that jobs young  people do, remain serious issues. The under 25s have suffered most from the economic downturn, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies (press report 04/03/15) showing their incomes are still 7% down. Meanwhile according to a Social Market Foundation Report, 25 to 35 year olds have experienced a 36% drop in savings since 2005.  Locked out of the housing market, neither are young people likely to be able to build up any financial equity.

At a more general level, PwC reports the total debt (including mortgage lending) to income ratio now stands at 172%. This is also the highest ever recorded. A future rise in interest rates could have untold implications.

March 23, 2015

Parents climb walls to help their children cheat.

Filed under: Education and economy — sitemananger @ 10:38 am


This astonishing picture from the Indian state of Bihar, published by  several news agencies (also as part of a Daily Telegraph video report), provides a chilling example of the faltering relationship between educational credentials and the labour market.  Some were apparently trying to hand in answer sheets folded into paper planes to the 12th grade pupils sitting their exams 

Ironically it’s in the faster growing economies where ‘education fever’ is most extreme.  Last year, over 2,000 Chinese students were caught cheating during a national exam, using elaborate high-tech gear to do so, with Chinese state television reporting that invigilators detected abnormal radio signals from an illegal frequency during national licensing tests for pharmacists in Shaanxi province.

In South Korea where university tuition fees are the third most expensive out of all the OECD countries, suicide is the largest cause of death among young people aged 15-24 years. Like China, UK policy makers have looked at South Korea for inspiration in the push to raise standards.

In the UK, thank goodness, responses are relatively mild  in comparison,   although a third of parents move house to get into a ‘good’ school catchment area and up to one in four now rely on tutors. Appealing against exam outcomes is now something quite normal, with the number of inquiries questioning GCSE and A-level grades  up by 48% to 450,500 last year, according to exam watchdog Ofqual.

But in the 21st global economy, with education now primarily about ‘passing’ rather than ‘learning’,  even piling up exams isn’t enough to help young people move on in life and as a result, education, unless it is radically changed and given a new meaning,  will increasingly experience a ‘legitimacy’ crisis. Becoming like trying to climb up a downwards escalator, as qualifications become devalued,  you have to climb further and faster just to stand still. Unfortunately  the  Bilar parents have taken climbing to a new level.

March 9, 2015

Alternative education policies

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:33 am

The National Union of Teachers has been using the run up to the General Election to promote its policies                                                      

Download  manifesto        COVER MAN_page_001    

Education researchers who support the Union  have published supporting material

Download  reclaiming schools     RECLAIMING COVER_page_001

Downloaded   chapters  from Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley’s  Education Beyond the Coalition still available at


February 27, 2015

Still nearly 1 million NEETS

Filed under: Lost Generation?, YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 10:48 am

While unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds has fallen (down nearly 200 000 compared with a year ago), it still remains much higher than that for the population as a whole. What’s more the figures for the last quarter of 2014 show a small increase.

Latest ONS figures for NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) show a much lower annual decline as well as an increase on the last quarter.  At 963 000, over 13% (almost 1 in 7) of all  16-24 year olds still classified as  NEET, while  over 15% of those 18-24 are in this category.  The discrepancy between the number of NEETs and those ‘unemployed’ is the result of the relatively large number  who are ‘economically inactive’ – over half a million.   Obviously a number of these will have long term illnesses or disabilities, caring or parenting responsibilities and will not be able to work; but many will also have given up looking. The ONS statistics do not include further data on these categories.

However, the figures do show that 60 000 16/17 year olds remain in the NEET category, 4% of this age group and that this has barely changed since the increase in the educational and training participation rate to 17. This may indicate the difficulties in implementing this policy or in cajoling young people into education, if they don’t want to be there.

February 22, 2015

Are apprenticeships a real alternative to university?

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 6:27 pm

Post for  Reclaiming Schools

Schools have been criticised by government ministers and Ofsted for not doing enough to promote apprenticeships, but do they serve as a real alternative to university? Our research shows that most apprenticeships are low-skilled and ‘dead-end’ and don’t guarantee employment after completion.

There are of course some very good schemes that lead to well-paid skilled jobs, but these are massively over-subscribed, with BT and Rolls Royce apprenticeships attracting more applicants per place than Oxford engineering degrees. The employment areas where apprenticeships are more likely to be available are in routine office work, health and social care, or retail. Engineering apprenticeships are still in short-supply and in 2013/14 there were under 15 000 starts in the construction industry. As a result, overall apprenticeship vacancies are still well short of the number of applicants……..

 Read on:

Martin Allen  and  Patrick Ainley have also contributed to the  new issue of Forum  


February 13, 2015

Ed Miliband’s Haverstock speech: Neo-liberal schooling goes rolling on?

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 12:04 am


It’s Ed Miliband’s commitment to limiting primary school class sizes that’s received most attention, alongside his pledge to protect the education budget

Yet in his speech, delivered at his old school, Haverstock in Camden, Miliband also backed more personal, social and  citizenship education, arguing that school should be more than just about passing exams. In doing so he also hinted that Labour would give 16 year olds the vote –an initiative which would surely lead to pressure for greater democracy and more say for young people, over the way schools are run.

But in attacking Michael Gove’s reforms as ‘narrow and backwards looking’, Miliband simply ground-out Neo-liberal Blairite rhetoric about the role of education (the ‘passport to success’) in providing the skills to enable young people to compete in the global market place and reiterated the now redundant post-war social democratic ideals about education’s role in challenging social inequalities and promoting more social mobility.

 Ignoring the realities and implications of economic decline, downwards social mobility, increased poverty and labour market stagnation, this means that schools will  continue to be pushed to ‘improve’ using data-driven targets, reinforced by Ofsted inspections, league tables and with teachers pay being tied to pupil performance.  In rejecting  ‘sausage machine’ schooling, whatever Tristram Hunt may think, Natalie Bennett and the Greens are far in advance of Labour.

February 2, 2015

New league tables bed down Gove’s curriculum

Filed under: 14-19 — sitemananger @ 7:31 am
still running the show?
Still running the show?

Last week’s secondary school league tables began to bed down the first of Michael Gove’s examination changes for 14-19. The 2014 tables excluded performances in resits or in BTEC style vocational qualifications –and gave further prominence to  English Baccalaureate subjects.   As a result many schools found that though their overall performance in exams had improved, they’d slid down the league  and  more are  ‘failing’. By 2016 the tables will be rank schools according to the ‘eight’. This will be performance in the EB plus three other subjects deemed sufficiently ‘rigorous’ (read ‘academic’ with end of course written examinations).

Much of the media attention given to this year’s tables however has been hogged by the top private schools –largely  because they’ve continued to do the old ‘unregulated’ syllabuses for International GCSEs (IGCSE). No longer allowed in tables,  many privates are  now also  failing

The tables have not been designed to regulate these schools however, but to impose a ‘grammar school’ curriculum across the state sector and  more importantly to create new categories of failure and of course,  the option of imposing further sanctions on those that don’t make the grade. 

With the current Secretary of State Nicky Morgan now promising new ‘11 plus’ requirements if the Tories are re-elected,  we’re moving even further to an education system based on regimentation and social control rather than encouraging innovation and social aspiration. This is appropriate for a society where social mobility has gone in to reverse and high rates of youth unemployment have become the norm.

January 28, 2015

Desperate Dave and the three million apprentices

Filed under: apprenticeships — sitemananger @ 11:09 pm


imagesUGQXR678Desperate to have something new to offer, David Cameron now promises 3 million more apprenticeships during the next Parliament. Estimated at £300 million per annum, these would come at the expense of further benefit cuts for families and unemployed young people. According to the Tories, reducing total benefit eligibility ‘within the first few days’ of a new government  would save £135 million while  another £120 million would be clawed back by  withdrawing  housing benefit for young people on Job Seekers Allowance.  It goes without saying the cuts would worsen poverty levels and homelessness, but it’s unlikely that anywhere near this number of new apprenticeships would ever be created.

It’s true that approaching 2 million apprenticeships have been established in the current Parliament, but, particularly during the early years, the majority have been for adults, often existing employees who had been reclassified as apprentices in order to be eligible for government funds.  In recent months, because of growing criticism, recruitment patterns have changed and for the first time young people now make up the majority of starts, but numbers have plummeted. In 2013-2014, there were less than 450 000 starts, 10% down on the previous year. Also, two-thirds continue to be at Intermediate/GCSE level, lasting a year, sometimes shorter – these  won’t lead to the ‘well-paid jobs’ Cameron talks about.

Ironically a major drag on increasing apprenticeship numbers may come from the new methods of funding now being piloted by the Coalition. If implemented, the changes make employers directly responsible for apprenticeships, whereas in the current system private training agencies do much of the recruitment and then receive government funding for providing training and accreditation.   While it is true that some apprenticeships have provided real opportunities, many have   represented a Great Training Robbery allowing government agencies to meet targets and training companies to line their pockets.  Placements have invariably been dead-end and youngsters ‘parked’ with employers on low wages; rather than making the transition to any proper employment.

 Many smaller businesses will be reluctant to take on the increased burden of being directly responsible, yet the main issue  continues to be whether employers really want apprentices at all; at least in the numbers that Cameron promises.  With many skilled and ‘middling’ occupations disappearing, the majority of jobs created since the downturn have been either unskilled work at the lower end of the service sector, or enforced ‘self-employment’. Creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 would depend on the transformation of the UK’s  low-skilled, casino driven economy. At the very least this would require a proper industrial strategy and huge levels of public investment. This is not what the two main parties in the general election are offering.

Download  Another Great Training Robbery

January 22, 2015

Youth unemployment on the rise again?

Filed under: Uncategorized — sitemananger @ 8:51 pm

untitledThe monthly ONS statistics on the labour market show that unemployment as a whole continues to fall –now down to 1.9 million (5.8% of the ‘economically active population’). Data for the youth labour market points the other way however.  The December figures indicated that the fall in youth unemployment during recent months, is now bottoming out, but January figures published this week show that youth joblessness is starting to increase once again.

For 16-24 year olds, unemployment has risen by 30 000, from a smaller cohort –in percentage terms it’s up to 16.8%   compared with 16% in the last quarter.  Even if full-time students looking for work are excluded, for 18-24 year olds, unemployment now stands at 16.9%. There’s also been a 50 000   rise in those classified as ‘economically inactive’.  Though not all of these would be available to work.

The contrasting fortunes of young people continues to illustrate the difficulties they have in entering the labour market –youth unemployment is three times the full adult rate –yet with young workers invariably the last to get jobs and the first to lose them, does it also point to a possible reversal of the recent trend of falling unemployment in the near future?

January 11, 2015

‘All in it together’

Filed under: 14-19 — sitemananger @ 12:56 pm

4334d8be-5dc1-47d3-bf8c-f5d6d1a30913Radicaled has posted critiques of Labour’s  polices for 14-19 year olds  to emphasise the continuity  with those of  Lord (Kenneth) Baker, whose support for a strong academic –vocational separation and in particular, for University Technology Colleges (UTCs) offering employment specialisms,  led to Tory tensions with Gove’s ‘grammar school education for all’ approach.

As has been argued, this does not make Baker’s programme any more progressive. Far from it.

In this recent picture from   Baker’s UTC newsletter, you’ll  see Tristram Hunt and Lord Adonis accompanying him at a recent UTC  event. A  sign of things to come?

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