Education or ‘Skills’ ?

lord_baker2Martin Allen


The Coalition’s education policies for secondary schools appear to be moving in two contradictory directions.

On the one hand new league tables announced by the DfE will publish ‘broader’ indications of success, yet the narrowness of the University Technical Colleges and now the proposed ‘Career Colleges’ seemingly originating from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will mean they are unlikely to offer the history/geography or modern language requirements of the Ebacc and so won’t properly feature in the tables.  Despite three additional non-Ebacc  subjects being allowed in the league table ’eight’, vocational learning will only be  included if the courses fit the tight requirements drawn up by the DfE. 

One thing’s  for sure, Lord ‘Ken’ Baker (pictured), launching the new colleges with Skills and Enterprise  Minister Matthew Hancock (rather than Michael Gove) appears back in favour, having originally been marginalised by  Gove’s wishes to impose a grammar school academic education on everybody.  Mistaken as being more ‘progressive’; on the contrary,   Baker is to the right of Gove. Baker’s not against academic education – far from it. Instead he wants it restricted to a minority and taught in separate schools. 

Yet research shows the occupational structure changing and ‘intermediate’ level jobs disappearing – this being reflected in the huge shortage of apprenticeships. With more jobs being ‘graduatised’ in the sense that degrees are needed to get them, if not to do them,  it’s small wonder that many young people feel they have no choice  but to do more traditional subjects and aim for university.

As Professor Alison Wolf has already pointed out to the Tories, vocational specialisation for 14 to 16 year olds does not help progression to the labour market and should be restricted to 20% of the timetable.  Like the old post-war tripartite system, rather than improving chances of employability the new schools are more about dividing learners, into sheep and goats –arguably the main agenda.

This does not mean that we should support Gove’s   Ebacc core, far from it.  In these uncertain times all young people need a good general education including a range of learning experiences.  Youth unemployment is the result of a lack of jobs, not a lack of skills.  We can’t educate our way out of recession, but neither can education substitute for the lack of alternative economic policies needed create jobs for young people.

3 thoughts on “Education or ‘Skills’ ?

  1. Thank you Martin for this and for all the radicaled blogs.
    “Youth unemployment is caused by a lack of jobs not a lack of skills” We need to keep making this point to counter the bogus “skills” agenda which seems to be the new common sense.
    Knowledge and skills are inextricably linked and what we need is a good broad general education which includes the development of both the knoweldge and skills which will be “realy useful” to us, for example the ability to analyse and critique the way things are and to propose alternatives.
    We also need a fully functional and sustainable economy based on fulfilling human needs and aspirations and creating socially useful work.
    I don’t think this is too much to ask…

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