Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Full-time education and ‘employment schemes’ cut NEET

by Mark Corney

Credit where credit is due: there were 90,000 fewer 18-24 year olds not in full-time education and either unemployed or inactive during August and October compared to the previous quarter.

Part of the fall is due to 14,000 fewer young people aged 18-24.

In addition, an extra 20,000 18-24 year olds are in full-time education or 32% of the age group.

But the striking feature of the figures is that there were 55,000 more 18-24 year olds classed as ‘employed’ and outside of full-time education.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Two views of the Future

by Mick Fletcher

No Stone Unturned’ is the catchy title of the Heseltine Review which looks at ways to restore growth in the British economy.  Unfortunately there is one stone he never bothered to turn – according to the credits in the report he listened to more people from Canada or from Sweden than in the English FE system and he appears to have taken little notice of the policies of the key department concerned with UK skills – BIS.   His analysis of a sector he clearly sees as central to growth policy consists of the repetition of tired clichés about too many hairdressers and a study he accepts as based on seriously flawed data.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

What lies beneath good news of more jobs for the over-50s

by John Philpott

Ever since the start of the recession youth unemployment has been public policy enemy number 1. Politicians and commentators of all persuasions warn of a ‘lost generation’ unless action is taken. It’s therefore good news that the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds has fallen below 1 million, with young people accounting for almost the entire fall of 49,000 in total unemployment between July and September as reported yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. Yet while this is the headline news, just as interesting is what is happening at the opposite end of the age-employment spectrum, with the over-50s taking the lion’s share of new jobs.  

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Tech Bacc – when will it start?

by Mark Corney

Last month, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary announced the EBacc covering academic subjects including English and Maths to be awarded at 16. From 16, young people can either continue on an academic pathway – progressing to A levels – or enter a vocational pathway – taking high quality vocational qualifications.

The vocational response to the EBacc has been the Tech Bacc. But for a large swathe of expert opinion, from Alison Wolf to Labour peer Lord Adonis, the Tech Bacc and vocational education start at 16 as an equivalent to reformed GCSE re-sits and A levels.

Conservative peer, Lord Baker, has long advocated access to vocational education from 14 rather than 16. At Labour’s party conference last week, he was joined by Ed Miliband. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Who cares about the 14-19 phase now?

by Mark Corney

The key point about the Key Stage 4 reforms announced by the Coalition Government is that 16 is reinforced as the 'break' in the English education and skills system.

Up to 16, pupils will follow an academic education of English, maths, science, history and geography.

At 16, pupils will be tested on their academically ability.

And it is after 16 when young people have permission to choose between an academic, vocational or apprenticeship pathway.

Together, the Key Stage 4 statement and the Wolf Review have 'blown out of the water' the idea of a 14 to 19 phase where students are obliged to study Maths and English throughout these years but can follow an academic or vocational curriculum.

The break at 16 and the proposed English BAC Certificate is standard Conservative Party policy.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Linking the Pupil Premium to Premium Practice

by Tricia Hartley

Today’s Ofsted report suggesting that Pupil Premium funding is having little impact on schools is disappointing but not surprising. Schools are struggling to cope with budget cuts, so using these funds to plug the gaps would be a logical strategy. However, the survey on which the report is based asked schools about how their practice has changed rather than what impact the additional funds have had, so we may hope that some schools have simply used them to enhance strategies which have already proved effective in raising attainment amongst poorer children.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Have an income, get a job

by Mark Corney

Despite the double-dip an extra 236,000 people were in employment between May and July this year compared with the previous quarter.

Good news until the headline figure is broken down.

Only 30% were full-time opportunities, either full-time jobs or full-time self-employment. The majority, 53%, were part-time jobs or part-time self-employment. And a further 10% were on government supported training programmes such as the Work Programme reflecting the failure of participants to be placed in jobs.

At the same time, a third of the new employment opportunities were temporary even though most of them wanted a full-time job.

And so we have an economy which is producing part-time, temporary and self-employment opportunities. But the other side of the coin is the type of people who are filling them.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A retrospective graduate tax

by Mark Corney

Ministers and their shadows remain open to the charge of introducing tuition fees for full time higher education when ‘they got free HE’.

Even though funding tuition fees through income contingent loans softens the blow for current students, the sour taste between the generations lingers.

As someone who received 'free HE' I have sympathy with the argument that my generation should make a contribution.

Somehow a policy must be devised where graduates before 1998 make a contribution towards the 'free' higher education they received. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Concessions on FE Loans – Good in Parts

by Mick Fletcher

Although the limited set of concessions announced for those most affected by the loss of grant support in FE and its replacement by loans does not go far enough to meet all the fears of critics it does nevertheless contain good news.  See  The main proposal, to write off any FE loan incurred by Access to HE students if and when they complete a degree, makes good sense and shows that BIS ministers have taken note of their own impact assessment and recent evidence on HE recruitment.  The numbers of adult students entering HEIs has already fallen sharply, almost certainly as a result of the new hikes in fees. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

How FE Colleges tackle unemployment

by Mick Fletcher

It was interesting to see this week that in Scotland at least boosting provision at FE Colleges is accepted as a logical policy response to high levels of unemployment (see ) The 157 Group are urging Whitehall policy makers to catch up and do the same south of the border. As a recent report published by the Group states it makes far more sense to train someone in new skills for the upturn than to pay them to chase jobs that don’t exist. The report can be found at

A major problem facing young adults who want to invest in developing their skills is maintenance; how do you make ends meet while studying at college. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

16-24 year olds: A bipolar education and employment system

by Mark Corney

For 16 and 17 year olds, the main goal of our education and employment system is supporting full-time further education rather than creating full-time jobs.

Jobs with apprenticeships, part time education and employer training cater for an ever smaller proportion of 16 to 17 year olds.

The problem is participation in full time education has dipped at 16 and flat-lined at 17. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Rising Participation: the end of the trend?

by Mick Fletcher

For the last ten years the number of 16 and 17 year olds participating in education and training has risen slowly but surely so that now over 95% of the former and 90% of the latter continue learning in one way or another.  Despite major efforts by successive governments to increase the numbers on apprenticeships the growth has in fact been driven by a growth in full time education; work based learning accounts for fewer than 4% of 16 year olds and 7% of 17 year olds. The statistical first release published at the end of June 2012 however shows that for the first time in a decade the overall numbers at December 2011 show a downturn. Is this the end of a trend?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A three tier education system?

by Mark Corney

The shock announcement by education secretary Michael Gove to replace GCSEs with O-level and CSE style examinations at 16 has raised the spectre of a two-tier education system.

O-levels for the academically bright and CSEs for the academically challenged is the masterplan.

Separating the academically able from the academically challenged at 14 will ensure bright kids from poor backgrounds study the right O-levels, staying-on at the same school to study the right A-levels to enter the best universities.

The problem, of course, is that most pupils from poor backgrounds would be channelled at 14 into taking the lower level CSE-style courses.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Free Meals and Social Mobility

by Mark Corney

Nothing explains the bias of the political class in England towards social mobility than free schools meals and entry into full-time higher education at 18.

Bright 16 year olds from poor families who stay-on in school sixth forms are eligible for free school meals.

By contrast, bright 16 year olds from poor families who stay-on at general FE colleges are not entitled to free meals.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

FE: the third way to increase social mobility

by Mark Corney

The Coalition Government believes increasing social mobility is an economic, social and moral imperative despite the double dip recession and the fiscal deficit.

This week, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, explained the progress made over to past year to improve social mobility.*

The strategy may look comprehensive at first glance, however the ultimate concern of the Coalition, and it seems the Deputy Prime Minister, is increasing the number of bright children from poor backgrounds entering higher education by age 18/19.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Young people want jobs stupid!

by Mark Corney

The unemployment figures will be published on Wednesday.

The broader measure of unemployment provides a rolling quarterly average of the number of people who have looked for work in the past four weeks and ready to work in the next two.

The time frame is January to March which coincides with the start of the double dip recession when GDP fell by 0.2%.

Signs of further weakness in the youth labour market should show up on Wednesday although the fact that unemployment is a lagging indicator suggests the worst is yet to come.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A momentous week for education?

by Mark Corney

The local and city polls tomorrow are the main mid-term elections before the general election in 2015.

Next Wednesday the Queen's Speech will set out the future legislative programme of the Coalition Government.

Both parties of the Coalition will have factored-in a hammering in the English local elections long ago. The Queen's speech offers a chance to reclaim the political initiative. Education will have to feature somewhere.

The outcome of the London mayoral election whilst critical to the fortunes of the Conservatives and Labour is less important than a high turn-out.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Fall in youth unemployment due to more in full-time education

by Mark Corney

Much has been made of the fall by 9,000 in the number of unemployed 18-24 year olds.

Welcome news indeed but the presumption is they are in jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth as the number in employment also fell by 12,000.

So where have these 21,000 18-24 year olds gone?

16,000 more were economically inactive – without a job and had not looked for work – and
to complete the picture there are 5,000 fewer 18-24 year olds in the overall population

But the real story behind the figures is the continuing role of full-time education in reducing youth unemployment and inactivity.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Protecting spending on children and young people

by Mark Corney

Last week, I argued that the real story behind Budget 2012 for education and skills is how much of this part of our public services is expected to contribute to the extra real terms spending cuts of £6.5bn in 2015/16 and £10.5bn in 2016/17.

At the heart of these cuts is the battle between AME and DEL.  

Annually managed expenditure (AME) is revenue and capital spending that fluctuates with the economic cycle. Examples include debt interest and welfare spending. Departmental expenditure limits (DEL) is revenue and capital spending which can be managed over three years. Examples include most but not necessarily all spending on education and skills.

The Coalition could save the entire £10bn from AME or from DEL and, of course, a mix of both. Bearing in mind the state of the economy and the public finances, however, it is unlikely that ‘education and skills’ will be totally immune from further spending cuts.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A Budget for education

by Mark Corney

At first glance, Budget 2012 looks like a non-event for education and skills.

Apart from piloting enterprise loans for young people and an extra £100m for science facilities, the conclusion could so easily be drawn that this is not a budget for education and skills.

But this is a budget where the story lies in the ‘big picture’ rather than specific measures.

To appreciate how important this budget is for education and skills, time has to be spent on grappling with the difference between annually managed expenditure (AME) and departmental expenditure limits (DEL). 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Budget Speech we’d like to hear

by Mark Corney

Mr Deputy Speaker, my Budget today announces far reaching reforms of our education, skills and employment systems.

I am determined to unleash the potential of our young people, prevent a lost generation of 18 to 24 year olds, transform training opportunities for adult workers and revitalise lifelong learning.

The Coalition Government is full-square behind the raising of the participation age to 18 in 2015. This will provide a step change in opportunities for all young people in England.

But by itself, the RPA will not ensure higher participation and greater achievement. We accept middle and lower income families facing cuts in real incomes and welfare benefits will find it harder to support their children to stay-on in education and training.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A New Deal for 16 and 17 Year Olds

by Mark Corney

These are hard times to increase participation in education and training by 16 and 17 year olds.

The new £42m a year programme for disengaged 16 and 17 year olds is a welcome step but well short of what is needed.

The Coalition must offer a new deal to 16 and 17 year olds in time for the start of the next academic year in September. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Budget for young people

by Mark Corney

The pressure on the Chancellor to deliver a ‘budget for growth’ is matched only by the need to craft a ‘budget for young people’.

Across the UK, 731,000 16-24 year olds are unemployed and ‘not in full-time education’. Another 713,000 are economically inactive and ‘not in full-time education’.

Compared to the autumn statement the fiscal outlook for the March budget is more positive. The deficit for 2012/13 could be £3bn lower than predicted.

Decisions to tax ‘wealth’ instead of’ income’ could also be good news for young people. For instance, ending higher rate tax relief to private pension contributions could save £7bn per year. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Budget for growth

The budget is four weeks away. The economy is set to zig-zag in and out of low growth throughout 2012. Pressure is mounting on George Osborne, the Chancellor, to deliver a ‘Budget for Growth’.

In the short-term, low growth is a symptom of low demand.

The ‘high’ politics of Budget 2012 is the choice between maintaining the present course and hoping demand from private companies and households will increase, and stimulating demand through tax-cuts and public spending funded through borrowing at the risk of higher interest rates.

But climbing up the political agenda is the question of how to increase long-term economic growth.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Youth Unemployment: beyond the Youth Contract

by Mark Corney

Wednesday's jobless figures will confirm that the Coalition Government must go well beyond the Youth Contract to prevent another lost generation of young people. The new, three year Youth Contract mainly for 18-24 year olds can only be a starter for ten.

To be fair, the Coalition is at least concentrating on the correct group of 18-24 year olds.* Young people can be divided between the employed, unemployed and the inactive. For each category, however, young people can be in full-time education or not. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Maintenance not fees explains buoyant full-time HE applications

by Mark Corney

Maintenance support rather than tuition fees explains why applications for full-time places in higher education starting this September have not fallen through the floor.

According to UCAS application rates for 18 year olds in England have only decreased by 5%.* More than 193,000 18 year olds from England have applied for full-time HE places** some 30% of the entire age cohort.

Few in the ‘world of HE’ predicted  the introduction of fees of up to £9,000 per year – the most radical shake-up of tuition funding for a generation – would result in a mere 5% drop in applications from 18 year olds.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Apprenticeships: Much to Inquire About

by Mark Corney

Apprenticeships are a flagship policy of the Coalition Government. The decision to conduct an inquiry into apprenticeships by the House of Commons Business Select Committee is timely and welcome. There is, indeed, much to inquire about and, incidentally, more than the terms of reference suggest.

Concerns that half of apprenticeships for 16-19 year olds are less than a year in length have grabbed the headlines in recent weeks. But little has been said about the implications for the raising of the participation to 18 in 2015. Under the RPA, a 16 year old, for instance, completing a Level 2 apprenticeship by age 17 will still have a duty to participate until their 18th birthday.