Almost 1 in 4 of trade union members are employed in education. According to the ONS 1.47 million of a total union membership of 6.2 million are now drawn from this sector. With almost half (47.7%) of all employees belonging to a trade union, the education has probably become the most organised. (In manufacturing, union density is now below 1 in 5 and in construction, only 1 in 8)
The ONS provides interesting –but in many cases, slightly alarming data, about the current state of the UK trade union movement, which is now less than half the size of its 13 million 1979 peak. The level of membership decreased by 275 000 between 2015/16 alone, the largest overall fall since records begun.
- Just 32.5% of workers are trade union members (13.4% in the private sector , 52.7% of public)
- 4 out of 10 trade union members are over 50, but only 1 in 20 are between 18-24
- 4 out of 10 members can be classified as ‘professional’ workers. 43% have degrees
- Trade union density amongst female employees is now greater than it is for males
- Over a third of ‘middle earners’ (£500 – £999 a week) and 1 in 6 of employees earning over £1000 a week are in unions. Only I in 8 of those earning less than £250 a week are TU members
Trade union can’t and won’t ignore these changes, but at the same time they will recognise these are as much the result of longer-term structural trends across labour markets as they are the consequences of draconian anti- trade union legislation or government policies and develop new strategies accordingly.
That education workers now play a key role in the labour movement, provides both further impetus for greater organisational unity (despite the NUT/ATL merger at least 10 different unions operate in the sector, often in competition with each other), but also for creating more effective ways of working with student and parental bodies.
Recently released data from the polling organisation YouGov shows the extent of young people’s willingness to back Labour in the recent General Election, with the party enjoying over three times as much support from 18-24-year-old voters as the Conservatives – amongst 18 and 19 year olds, support was even stronger with 66% opting for Labour compared with just 19% for the Tories.
According to YouGov, 64% of students voted for Labour compared to just 19% for the Conservatives. This was a clear reflection of Labour’s manifesto commitment to end university tuition fees – the average amount of debt acquired per student has now reached more than £32,000 with a third of students considering their courses did not provide value for money (Guardian 08/06/17) Labour also pledged to restore Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) for post-16 students, to make Further Education courses free and to upgrade the quality of vocational education and apprenticeships.
At the other end of the age group, things could not have been more different, as almost 70% of 70 year olds voted Conservative and 58% of those between 60-69. Participation levels were also much higher amongst older age groups, with 57% of 18-19 year olds turning out, compared to 84% of those 70 plus. YouGov also found that differences in the way various occupational classes voted were becoming much less significant and the tendency to vote Conservative declined as educational levels increased –with Labour enjoying a 15 % lead amongst graduates.
Young people’s support for Labour was not just the result of its policies or the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn – the party was far ahead of the Tories in its ability to use social media, so as to help neutralise the attacks on Corbyn by the official media. It was also the result of major efforts by student unions to increase registration, handing in hundreds of registration forms from their members just hours before the deadline.
With a highly volatile electorate, Labour will not take this support for granted and with dreadful employment prospects for young people –even for those with degrees – it will need to develop clear policies that address job market insecurities, as well as continuing to improve educational opportunity. Nevertheless, the YouGov data provides many positives.
The Guardian (Editorial February 20th) has now joined the attack on University Technology Colleges* correctly arguing that directing ‘non-academic’ students’ onto a vocational curriculum at 14 – what it terms ‘backdoor selection’ – is wrong.
Some five years after Alison Wolf’s review had slammed many qualifications for being ‘worthless’ in the labour market, the paper likens the low status of vocational education, compared with academic learning, to the old grammar and secondary modern divide and calls for specialisation to be delayed until 16. This is now what the government intends as it seeks to rebuild what the paper describes as a ‘beleaguered’ vocational system through its Post-16 Skills Plan.
Redrawing the line of divide at 16 through the creation of a new technical route has led to alarm bells about the dilapidated state of the further education sector and the need for a major injection of funding. Nobody would dispute this, but what can be disputed is whether we need a vocational pathway at all? Employers have never taken it seriously and have continued to select recruits on performance in academic subjects, while significant numbers of young people with vocational qualifications continue to use them as alternative routes into higher education rather than to develop employment skills. With major changes in the occupational structure, particularly the collapse of ‘middling’ and technician level employment it’s even more questionable whether these sorts of qualifications are required.
Instead, surely young people need a good general education? Current academic qualifications do not provide this and it’s these that need to be reformed, rather than vocational courses. But the nature and basis of academic learning is rarely challenged, not least because most of those concerned with education policy and curriculum development have benefitted from the status and security that it has provided for them. Academics and educational professionals are very good at designing and redesigning vocational courses for other people’s children but are reluctant to visit their own back yard.