Young people, education and skills:  Nothing new in the ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper

The Levelling Up White Paper adds little to the Tories existing policies designed to ‘upskill’ young people. Way down in the policies chapter, you’ll find, amongst other things,  proposals to.

  • Create a handful of specialist 16-19 Maths schools
  • Allow ‘talented’ 16-year-olds from disadvantaged areas to be fast tracked entries to high performing sixth forms. New ones will be open where they don’t exist
  • Establish a National Academy – no details of how, where and what

It also picks up pledges in last year’s Skills White Paper such as:

  • An entitlement to a cost-free level 3 qualifications for adults without them
  • A commitment to the 4-year life time skills guarantee, but financed through a loan system
  • Setting up more Institutes of Technology, driven by employers and ‘skills partnerships’, based in local FE colleges and universities.  

There’s a mention about the need to change the way the apprenticeship levy operates, while for those lower down the age group, 55 ‘education investment areas’ (EIAs) in lower preforming areas.

Levelling Up continues to use the ‘human capital’ approach of the Skills White Paper, but also central to previous policy initiatives from both the Tories and Labour. This equates a lack of skilled jobs with a lack of skilled (qualified) workers, while those with high qualifications are rewarded with high paid employment.  Because 55% of London working age population have qualifications to level 4 (post-A-level) – much higher than elsewhere, and compares with 32% in the North East,  this is reflected, the WP implies, by average life time earnings in London and its surrounding areas being 33% higher than elsewhere.

But London is a graduate magnet. As a graduate you are quite likely to move there after completing university. Likewise if there are few employment opportunities in the Northern seaside town you’ve been brought up in, you are going to be less prepared to continue in education. That is unless you are able to attend university and then leave the area.

But in many respects, despite regional differences, the UK population’s qualification level is relatively high. In all areas, well over 50% are qualified to level 3 /Advanced level, with 70% qualified to level 2 GCSE and with less than 10% having no qualifications at all. For those younger, levels are much higher. This is significant because for many, if not most of the jobs available in the UK, people are more than qualified to do them. And as a recent Resolution Foundation study shows, those who lost jobs in the pandemic, particularly young people, are more likely to be forced into insecure, poorly paid ‘precarious’ employment.

In other words, the reason for many job vacancies post-pandemic and post-Brexit, is because you can’t get people to do them. Unemployment rates might be low, but in most sectors pay increases are still below inflation. There’s now evidence that increased numbers, including young people, are withdrawing from the labour market.  It’s true the White Paper contains other policy commitments, that go beyond just improving qualification and skills levels. But as others have shown, they are weak and ineffective.

4 thoughts on “Young people, education and skills:  Nothing new in the ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper

  1. The education proposals in the White Paper are meant to be for England only. Despite the Tory attempts to roll-back the devolution agenda, Education policies in Wales and Scotland are still firmly in the hands of the SNP and Labour governments and their Green and Plaid Cymru partners (goodness knows though what will happen now with Education in the north of Ireland, given the DUP First Ministerial resignation – new elections? direct rule? DUP coming back because the Tories crash the Protocol and start a trade war with the EU? ??).

    The Levelling Up White Paper purports to be for the whole of the UK and the UK government wants the devolved governments to play ball with their policies by meeting regularly with the UK government and rubber stamping them. However the Scottish and Welsh governments are increasingly resistant to “turning up to meetings and being told what to do”. The Tories fluffed the new “Brexit Freedoms Bill” (sic) by not telling the devolved governments until the last minute and refusing to accept their right to refuse legislative approval.

    Science policy and the research councils is a reserved matter however, and the Tories (currently on 20% in polls) have already decided for the people of Scotland where its ‘innovation acceleration’ centre will go (Glasgow), rather than leave it to the elected representatives of the people – the Scottish government and parliament – to decide what’s best. And people are noticing that the total replacement value for the EU structural funds, including support for training programmes, only amounts to about 40% of what the EU previously paid and that the EU insisted on the devolved governments deciding the priorities rather than Westminster. The UK government has also unilaterally cancelled the Scottish and Welsh governments membership of ERASMUS+, even though they were willing to pay for it themselves out of their education budgets.

    ‘Taking back control’ means a power grab of devolved education policy for Whitehall departments and English Tory MPs. This cannot go on – the British state will be in its death throes soon…. not before time.

  2. Well said. The ‘huge shift in power from Whitehall to local leaders’ [= regional mayors] likely to be constrained in the case of the devolved national governments that ‘the UK government wishes to work hand in hand with’ if they chose instead to maintain their hard-won independence. Likewise, the prospect of ‘moving towards a London-style transport system to connect people to opportunity’ might only be realised if London Transport were taken from the London Mayor to be levelled down in the supposedly uniformly prosperous South East!

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