Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Confused by the 'new norm'

by Mark Corney 

The Coalition wants 'apprenticeships or university to become the new norm for young people leaving school'. Apart from the reference to a 'new norm' this statement of education and skills policy is little different to that of the last Labour Government. 

The problem is that this formulation of policy is as confusing today as it was then. To grasp the confusion it is best to start at the end on this occasion and 'young people and leaving school' are uncomfortable bedfellows. 

Leaving school could refer to 14, 16 or 18 year olds. From this September, 14 year olds can leave school and study full-time at FE colleges. Again, 16 year olds can leave school to study full time at colleges and most young people do exactly that. Hence, more 18 year olds leave colleges than schools after completing their further education. 

Depending upon the age of young people the 'new norm' of apprenticeships and university is largely irrelevant. At 14, apprenticeships are no longer available and the number in full time higher education can be counted on one hand. So the 'norm' is a choice between full-time school and college. 

Between 16 and 17, only 5% of the entire cohort gain jobs with apprenticeships and less than 1% enter full-time higher education. So the 'norm' is a choice between full-time school and college which is unlikely to change because employers are offering fewer and fewer 16 and 17 year olds jobs with apprentices. 

It is only at 18 that the choice is between apprenticeships and full-time higher education. Employers are more willing to recruit 18 year olds into apprenticeships after a period in further education at school and colleges. Equally, 18 is the peak recruitment year into full-time higher education. 

In reality the 'new norm' of apprenticeships or university' refers to young adults aged 18 and over. What the Coalition Government is really saying is that '18 year olds starting an apprenticeship or university should be the new norm'. Then a rational policy debate can take place on the additional options needed when there are insufficient places in full time higher education or jobs with apprenticeships for every 18 year old.

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