Category Archives: skills




BCC  joins others in calls for quality careers guidance and  education in schools

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) on 30 January published its Skills and Employment Manifesto, setting out ways to radically transform the systems that educate our young people, with recommendations for training our adult workforce.

The BCC Manifesto seeks to  address ‘skills mismatch’ described by many UK employers.

BCC President, Nora Senior: “Although we believe that successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers, it is time to break away from the blame game.”

In short, Employers consistently tell the BCC (and CBI/IOD) that there is a mismatch between what they are looking for in their staff, and the skills, experience and attitude offered by too many prospective candidates. The Prime Minister regularly refers to a global race, yet the BCC believes that in the 21st century, it is the countries with the most skilled workforces – both young and old – that will be the ultimate winners.


The Manifesto calls for:

Ensuring that ‘employability’ skills are at the heart of how schools are assessed and rated

Investing in quality careers education for all young people, including regular, quality contact with a variety of employers

Using Chambers to offer independent advice and support to SMEs to increase investment in apprenticeships and workplace training

Clear, universally understood qualifications for literacy, numeracy, computing and foreign languages

Qualifications to be consistent and clear, to enable employers to understand an individual’s competencies

Tax incentives for the development of foreign language and export skills

All employment policy to become the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Universities to work with Chambers of Commerce to promote enterprise among a wider range of students, and to ensure university courses are relevant to future job opportunities

The government to give employers a choice on how they receive government funding for apprenticeships – either directly through the tax system or via their chosen training provider

Commenting, Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Skills will decide who wins and who loses in a 21st century economy – yet employers across the UK constantly say they struggle to find prospective employees, particularly those leaving education, who have the right skills to succeed in the workplace.

“Although we believe that successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers, it is time to break away from the blame game. Various organisations and sectors continue to blame each other for a lack of ‘work readiness’ among young people, but it is time for everyone to accept some responsibility, and find ways to move forward.

“The world has changed at a rapid pace. If Britain doesn’t keep up, employers who are unable to access the skills they need or those unwilling to invest in training will lose business to other firms at home and abroad, putting us at a disadvantage. Simple measures, such as investing in quality careers education, making employability a key measure for schools, and supporting interaction between pupils and local employers, will deliver more jobs and growth in the long-term.  “Government, schools, colleges and employers must all work together in the coming months and years to ensure that the UK has a workforce that is ‘fit for purpose’. Failure to do so risks consigning generation after generation to a less prosperous future.”

On Careers Guidance the report says:

‘Careers education should start in Key Stage 2 and build to form a statutory element of secondary national curriculums. Every young person should gain work experience of different lengths in different sectors. Chambers of Commerce can facilitate these placements with local and national businesses.’

Publicly funded careers services should be fully extended to cover anyone over the age of 13, including face-to-face advice.

• National Insurance numbers should be used to track the average earnings of each school’s alumni as a proxy for success in the labour market.

• ‘Destination measures’ should be extended to include longer-term outcomes. Although there is value to understanding the destination of students after 12 months, this encourages some schools to find any destination rather than the right one for each individual. Destination measures should be extended to show five-year destinations’.

Another report also published this week from the think tank –IPPR (North)- says that  ‘today’s secondary school pupils are being let down by careers services that are not up to scratch’.   Furthermore it states that ‘Schools should be given more support to meet their statutory duty to provide independent careers advice and guidance’ and that ‘ the careers advice process should be more properly embedded in the curriculum. In particular, the role of careers in education should be clearer and wider.’

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills for the CBI, added to the growing clamour over the inadequacies of schools careers guidance when he said “there must  …be a sea change in the quality of careers advice in schools”


Skills Manifesto British Chamber of Commerce -2014


Driving a generation: Improving the interaction between schools and businesses-  2014 -Bill Davies and Ed Cox of IPPR North.


A report last year for the Sutton Trust, by Boston Consulting, said “Because of the complexity of vocational education in England, students need expert and impartial advice, but very little is available to them. Surveys by Chrysalis for City and Guilds in 2011 and for Careers England in 2012 showed that 28% of vocational students received no advice at all and that two thirds are dependent on teachers and school careers advisers, in whom they have little confidence on this subject’.



Time to move away from the Factory model of schooling, says Professor Mehta


Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of the book “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling.”

He makes the familiar claims  in his book that the way schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn’t changed much in the century since the ‘Progressive Era’. His proposition is that the US still has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.(Professor Ken Robinson has said much the same thing, as has Anthony Seldon here)

He writes in the New York Times ‘Call it the industrial-factory model: power resides at the top, with state and district officials setting goals, providing money and holding teachers accountable for realizing predetermined ends. While rational on its face, in practice this system does not work well because teaching is a complex activity that is hard to direct and improve from afar. The factory model is appropriate to simple work that is easy to standardize; it is ill suited to disciplines like teaching that require considerable skill and discretion.’

This echos concerns, shared by other educators, that the teaching profession, rather than improving its status, is being de-professionalised. Unions have little influence in shaping policy and have failed to raise the status of the profession.

Mehta  continues ‘Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions’ standards to guide their work.’ Some of these arguments are being used by those in the UK who advocate a new professional body for teachers (Royal College of Teaching etc).

By these criteria, his conclusion is   that American education is a failed profession. There is no widely agreed-upon knowledge base, training is brief or non-existent, the criteria for passing licensing exams are much lower than in other fields, and there is little continuous professional guidance (and development). It is not surprising, then, that researchers find wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms; in the absence of a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, we have teachers essentially winging it as they go along, with predictably uneven results.

The top systems recruit the top graduates (Investing in Human capital -see Professor Hargreaves and Fullan on this)). Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than elsewhere.

In America, both major teachers’ unions and the organization representing state education officials have, in the past year, called for raising the bar for entering teachers; one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, advocates a “bar exam.” Ideally the exam should not be a one-time paper-and-pencil test, like legal bar exams, but a phased set of milestones to be attained over the first few years of teaching. Akin to medical boards, they would require prospective teachers to demonstrate subject and pedagogical knowledge — as well as actual teaching skill.

He continues ‘Tenure would require demonstrated knowledge and skill, as at a university or a law firm. A rigorous board exam for teachers could significantly elevate the quality of candidates, raise and make more consistent teacher skill level, improve student outcomes, and strengthen the public’s regard for teachers and teaching.

We let doctors operate, pilots fly, and engineers build because their fields have developed effective ways of certifying that they can do these things. Teaching, on the whole, lacks this specialized knowledge base; teachers teach based mostly on what they have picked up from experience and from their colleagues.’

The ‘Allure of Order’, explores the power of ideas  in shaping politics. When a new paradigm arises “Newspapers, legislative debates, and other forums where issues are debated and decided take up issues different from those they did before. Existing actors’ identities are reshaped as the new problem definition changes the way people think about an issue. … New actors and groups are also created.”

But, unlike a number of current narratives on the problems of education, Mehta goes further by offering guidance for the route to universal good schools. He discusses four elements needed for a successful school system:

 practice-relevant knowledge,

 strong human capital, (Hargreaves and Fullan etc )

 school-level processes of improvement, and

 external support and accountability.

He ends by looking for new institutions to try new approaches and old institutions to reform themselves: “We can only hope that they have learned from the lessons of the past and seek not to control but to empower, creating the infrastructure upon which talented practitioner can create the good schools of the future.”

The changes needed to professionalize American education won’t be easy, he admits. They will require money, political will and the audacity to imagine that teaching could be a profession on a par with fields like law and medicine. But failure to change will be more costly — we could look up in another 30 years and find ourselves, once again, no better off than we are today. Several of today’s top performers, like South Korea, Finland and Singapore, moved to the top of the charts in one generation. Real change in America is possible, but only, he says, if they stop tinkering at the margins.

Its interesting how many of the perceptions about what needs to change in the United States are shared by educators here in the UK when championing the need  for reform. There is a consensus building here that a new professional body is required to elevate the status of the profession, independent of  both unions and government.;jsessionid=985C8A681F1ABEA4DBBE353E3C9D56FB?cc=gb&lang=en&



Businesses fear skills shortage could hold back growth

Critical area of weakness remains careers advice which is ‘haphazard’ according to Cridland


There is a stubborn shortage in the skills the UK needs to remain competitive and fuel long-term growth, according to the annual CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey published recently.

The key findings from the survey of 294 firms, employing 1.24 million workers show:

• 39% are struggling to recruit workers with the advanced, technical STEM skills they need – with 41% saying shortages will persist for the next three years.

• almost half lack confidence in getting high-skilled workers in future overall – with more acute concerns in key sectors like manufacturing, construction and engineering.

• we still tolerate a long tail of low achievement on literacy, numeracy and technical skills, with 48% of firms putting on basic remedial training for employees – up from 42% last year.

• 55% say school leavers lack the right work experience and key attributes that set them up for success, including self-management (54%); problem solving (41%); and attitude to work (35%) – stressing the need for school reform to produce people who are rounded and grounded, as well as stretched academically.

• 32% and 31% respectively are dissatisfied with some school and college leavers basic literacy and numeracy – 31% report young people lack the technical skills they need.

The CBI fears a return to long-term growth might be held back by shortages in key industries. It argues next week’s Spending Round needs to protect the skills and apprenticeship budgets as far as possible, while giving employers’ greater control.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General said:

“We’re facing a critical lack of skills in some key industries, just as the economy starts to pick up. Long-term, sustainable growth will come in part from rebalancing towards high-value products and services, which demand much better technical skills.

“We need to boost our skills base urgently before the UK loses more ground. It’s time to stop looking on enviously at Germany and build a system that works.”

The CBI is urging the Government to implement the independent Richard Review into apprenticeships, which proposed a range of measures designed to ensure investment follows industry demands – giving employers control over qualification content and structure, while routing funding more directly to businesses, rather than spending the money through intermediaries.

Mr Cridland added:

“The Chancellor is walking a tough line in making substantial savings, without harming the fledgling recovery. There are few better ways of underpinning long-term growth than investing in skills.

“Firms are already investing in training but they cannot do it on their own. We want to see the skills budget protected as far as possible, while focussing on business needs. That means routing funding more directly to firms. We can’t afford for funding to be badly targeted or sucked up by bureaucracy.

“On school reform, businesses want rigour, as well as young people to be rounded, grounded and ready for working life.”

In his foreword to the survey John Cridland says that ‘a critical area of weakness remains careers advice which should lubricate transitions between education and work.’ But ,he continues ‘services  available to young people and to adults  seeking a change of direction have been far too haphazard’   

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK said:

“Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, so now more than ever, business, government and the education community must work together to ensure young people learn what they need, for a better job and a better life.  This data shows that employers are still having to do the leg work to get young people ready for work.

“This means considering the skills and knowledge that young people need to compete on an international level. We share an ambition to ensure that the qualifications and skills people acquire at school, college, university or in work are truly world class, and globally benchmarked.”

“By bringing together our strong national heritage in education and lessons from our partners internationally, Britain has the potential to become the global leader in the race for knowledge, skills and innovation.”

Changing the Pace-CBI/Pearson education and skills survey-2013


Labour will support Free schools open or in the pipeline in 2015


For those  confused about Labours attitude to Free schools,  and there are a few,here is some recent clarification. In his speech to the RSA on 17 June the shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said that Labour  “will not continue with Michael Gove’s Free Schools policy. Existing free schools and those in the pipeline will continue. But in future we need a better framework for creating new schools..”  He continued “There will be no bias for or against a school type- so new academies, new maintained schools, new trust schools- all options. A school system based on evidence not dogma.That is what a One Nation schools system is about.”

Andrew Adonis, the architect of the academies scheme, and still very much involved with Labour policymaking,  writes ‘ Free schools are academies without a predecessor school, like Mossbourne and School21 (Hyman, de Botton etc).  Stephen rightly pledged to support all such schools open or in the pipeline in 2015. Labour will enable more parent-led academies, like the West London Free School, to be established where there is a local demand for places.Where we differ fundamentally from the Conservatives is that they are allowing ‘free schools’ to be established anywhere, whether or not there is a need for additional places, whereas Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas – and there are plenty of them – where there is a shortage of good quality school places.  Pressure on public spending is intense; in 2010 Michael Gove cancelled 715 priority building projects for academies and community schools in desperate need of new or modernised facilities.  It cannot be a priority to establish new academies in areas where there are sufficient good quality places while existing academies and community schools lack the facilities they need to do a good job.’

Note: Goves reaction

Michael Gove, the education secretary, reacting to Twiggs speech   said: “Labour’s policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering. On the one hand Stephen Twigg says he will end the free school programme, but on the other he says he would set up ‘parent-led’ and ‘teacher-led academies’ – free schools under a different name.”


James Caan gets off to a poor start as the  new social mobility Czar


Many of you are probably aware that in 2010 Alan Milburn was appointed the ‘social mobility czar’. Indeed,  he  produced a rather good , impressively comprehensive report on  social mobility, We also have Simon Hughes MP , who is the ‘access czar’ .Hughes  has  a  lower profile. The two roles, self-evidently,  overlap.  Confusingly now, James Caan, the entrepreneur, who used to be on TV in the  Dragons Den,  was ,this week, also   given the title ‘social mobility czar’ by Nick Clegg.  Quite why the term  ‘Czar ‘is routinely used without any sense of irony, and is common currency,  is lost on me. Were  the Czars known for their commitment to education and social mobility? One doesn’t need to be Simon Schama to know that the Czars  first priority was probably not an unwavering  commitment to increasing the life opportunities of the most disadvantaged .   Does  this  matter? Yes, it probably does. Words and language in politics not only provide  literal meaning ,they  convey a mind-set, an attitude, a  mood, a set of values and context.  So ,the  term Czar has no utility and  should  pass  into history.

James Caan, spent his first media interview arguing that parents shouldn’t give their offspring a helping hand in the workplace. The   highly successful Pakistan-born businessman warned of the dangers of helping out one’s children too readily. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Caan said it was important to “let the child stand on his own two feet” and not assist them finding a job until “the child has tried everything”. He explained: “You are trying to develop your child too; you don’t want them to feel as though they don’t have to make the effort.”

Some might agree. But, and its quite a big ‘ but’, Caan has apparently  helped at least one of his  own daughters to  find employment .Caan’s younger daughter, Hanah, has no fewer than three roles within his business and charitable empire. It also transpired that his elder daughter, Jemma, now works for a recruitment company in which Caan invests,( though that came after four years of post-university work elsewhere). So it looks very much as if Caan  might be  a do as  I say, not do as I do kind of guy, so maybe not the right person to lead on social mobility, fine businessman though he may be. Or am I missing something?  And what do Alan Milburn and Simon Hughes have to say about it all? And whats so  deeply depressing about all this  is  that politicians  still seem to  think this approach makes a difference. What  has  happened to evidence led policy? This is all presentation  and no substance and the presentation  isnt up to much!. Cue, Clegg and others distancing themselves from Caan.


In a statement on his website, Caan insisted he believed parents should “encourage their children to explore their own opportunities and define themselves in their own right”. He added: “The fact is that parents will always have the innate feeling to help their children into jobs. I’m no different.”


Not against academies but they are not a silver bullet for improvement

Current government  policy he claims  eschews vital ingredient ‘collaboration’


The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, in  his speech to the ASCL, last weekend, claimed that this governments academies policy resulted in a two tier system and  was  not encouraging system wide reform. He said “I believe Michael Gove has learnt the wrong lesson from New Labour’s school reforms. He thinks that academies are about recreating the grammar school model. A group of high flying schools which are given additional funding and support, but no plan to raise the quality of education across the whole school system.  An increasingly fragmented schools landscape, while what we need is better collaboration between schools to raise standards.  Labour’s original academies programme was about how you realise the comprehensive ideal  – mixed ability education with rigorous standards.  We focussed on driving up standards in some of the most challenging schools in some of the least well off neighbourhoods.”

He talked of an Arc of Underachievement which holds back the life chances of too many children across the country with too much inconsistency. He said “ Michael Gove thinks that the answer to this underperformance is to create free schools and  academies.  But if this was the case – why is the worst performing school in England, an academy. Why  is that of the Free Schools who have had Ofsted inspections – all of the secondary schools – admittedly only three – have been inspected, have been giving a “requires improvement”  rating, despite having wealthy intakes and not one of the schools is rated as outstanding?”

Twigg reiterated that he was  not against academies, but nor does he think they are a ‘ silver bullet’ for  school improvement.

He is proud of Labours academy record. He said, referring to the recent report of the Academies Commission: “The Commission is absolutely clear about the impact of Labour’s academies programme.  While I know that some people would like Labour to condemn academies – I will not. They helped raise standards amongst some of the poorest children in Britain. We should be rightly proud, and celebrate the teachers and heads that delivered.  As the Commission notes, “these early academies revitalised the system, including initiating a shift in culture…[they] showed just how much could be achieved with high aspirations,  determination that young people would achieve well, and a rigorous and consistent approach  to school improvement.”

Crucially though , Twigg believes that the current system is atomised and missing a  vital ingredient for system improvement -collaboration. He said “The problem is at the heart of Michael Gove’s approach. A free market ideology fails to understand that collaboration is critical to school improvement.  Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s work on education has said that “professional autonomy needs to go hand in hand with a collaborative culture, with autonomous schools working in partnership to improve teaching and learning.” He points to schools in Scandinavia, Japan and Shanghai which have embedded a culture of teamwork and cooperation.  However, nearly two thirds of academies are ‘singletons’ – not part of a school improvement partnership. These represent the bulk of academies set up since 2010. An increasingly fragmented, atomised system where schools are not encouraged to  collaborate.”

Twigg concluded: “Michael Gove missed a golden opportunity with the converter academy programme. He promised to promote collaboration in the Schools White Paper in 2010. He could have made it a requirement of a school becoming an academy that they support a weaker school, but he failed.”

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove , says that  rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards.  He points to the fact that two  of the most successful countries in PISA – Hong Kong and Singapore - are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition (Finland,  though, another high flier  eschews competition). He wants both competition and collaboration. In a speech to the the Schools Network in December 2011 he said “Overall, our vision for the future is of a self-improving network of schools, innovating and engaging, competing and collaborating, teaching and training, for the benefit of all our children.”


 Performance pay-be careful what you wish for


From September 2013, the set “spine points” on teachers main pay scale are to be scrapped, with schools free to set teachers’ pay anywhere between minimum and maximum levels depending on performance.

While academies are already free to deviate from national pay structures, (very few have, to date) the plans drawn up by the STRB – and accepted in full by the Department for Education – will now give other schools greater power to link teachers’ pay to performance.

It is clear that the issue of performance related   pay is high on this governments agenda.  Ministers are trying to raise the quality of teaching to compare with the best in the world. The OECD (2009) concluded that “the effective monitoring and evaluation of teaching is central to the continuous improvement of the effectiveness of  teaching in a school”. It is less clear that this issue  is high on teachers and governors agendas.

The last Labour government introduced a PRP system in the late 1990’s and just about every teacher who was eligible met the criteria for a pay rise ,(96%) so it didn’t really work . In short, it failed effectively to link extra rewards to higher performance. Heads and governors dont much like dealing with this sensitive issue  head on as inevitably it causes some conflicts and ill feeling within staff rooms, which may go some way to explaining why the last system failed.

Central to PRP or ‘merit ‘pay is the ability to accurately measure and evaluate individual teachers performance. The system you develop should be fair, efficient and not have a large bureaucracy attached to it. And that is why,frankly, it is problematic.

The three most common ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness, according to research, are  gains in test scores, classroom observations and pupil surveys. Each method though has its known weaknesses. Teacher observation apparently   is the least predictive method of assessing teacher effectiveness. Nonetheless, despite this, those  involved with teacher evaluation say that each element   has its place within a  comprehensive and fair  teacher evaluation system. The key they claim  is to get the right balance between these different elements, which is easier said than done.

Of these elements, gains in pupil test scores are seen by most as the best available metric to measure teacher performance. However, as they are finding in the USA, it doesn’t come without its problems. (around forty states have introduced some form of merit pay, incentivised to do so  by the Federal government) .  Although schools can have a substantial impact on performance,  student test scores can  also increase, decrease or remain flat for reasons that have little or nothing to do with schools. Measurement errors can occur, while  parental education levels, family’s economic circumstances,  and parental involvement, can also play a role. There is self-evidently a strong incentive for playing the numbers to look successful on “quality” measures since the numbers carry substantial consequences for the teacher. This is a very high stakes game. Working out how to look good, through test results, becomes an end in itself, with the numbers becoming  more important than the primary task of teaching students. Given that many politicians now worry about teachers being pre-occupied with teaching to the test,  and children’s education suffering as a consequence, introducing test scores as  the primary metric to evaluate teachers is going to encourage more (indeed all) teachers to teach to the test ,not less.

It would seem that Value-added or progress measures, rather than absolute test or exam results, should be the primary data used in evaluating performance, certainly this is what many experts recommend. But, and its quite a big but,  measuring value added is itself  not free from controversy and there are different models available, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and  with no clear consensus identifiable.

There are ways, though, of using pay to encourage groups of teachers to work better together to improve outcomes. And, if one is honest about this issue, it sticks in the craw that outstanding teachers are not rewarded as they should be, while poor teachers can stay in the profession for life having a  hugely negative effect on students life opportunities, and education outcomes, while acting as a drag on improving the system  more generally (quite apart from irritating their better performing peers).

To recap-to make progress in this area you need to develop a system that is fair, balanced, transparent and not too bureaucratic. They are still struggling with this challenge in the States, where they are well ahead of us in both thinking and practice on this issue.

One recent study  titled ‘The Use and Misuse of Teacher Appraisal’ (Laura Figazzolo- Education International Research Institute Consultant- January 2013) found: ‘ The evidence is that many dimensions need to be taken into account when evaluating teachers.  Student achievements are but one dimension – especially when these are standardized tests. Where  teacher appraisal is based on professional standards, classroom observations, curriculum  development, and a wide range of associated factors which are associated with teaching and teacher  perspectives, comprehensive methods seem to be able to provide more valuable information. When  teacher appraisal arrangements and policies are conceived with the participation of teachers and  their unions, comprehensive methods seem to be able to gain teachers’ trust and provide valuable  information. As such, they are gaining growing recognition in the debate on teacher appraisal’

It is  frustratingly  true that schools here  seeking expert advice and guidance on this  issue will be confronted with much  conflicting evidence and the issue is neither simple nor straightforward..




The latest High Fliers study suggests the top employer of new graduates in 2013 is Teach First, with 1,260 vacancies, followed by the consultancy firms Deloitte and PwC, planning to hire 1,200 new graduates each. Teach First, inspired by an American scheme, recruits top graduates into teaching and supports them to ‘ raise the achievement, aspirations and access to opportunity of pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds.’ The trainees join its Leadership Development Programme which involves teaching for a minimum of two years, achieving a PGCE and wider leadership skills training. After the two years, more than half the graduates  continue to teach within schools in low-income communities, with many moving into middle and senior leadership positions. Those who don’t stay in teaching have acquired useful skills that they can use throughout their careers but have also developed an understanding of teachers and teaching that may help raise the status of the profession.

Research from Aston University confirms the conclusion from the High Fliers report (Jan 14) that graduates need work experience while at university to stand a better chance of gaining graduate employment. The study shows that placement courses can double a student’s employment prospects. Yet fewer placement courses are currently being offered by universities.




Gove attacked for not bothering to convince stakeholders that his policies are right


Laura McInerney, a teacher, Fulbright scholar and Policy Development Partner at consultants LMKCO is concerned , as she sees it,about the Secretary of States unwillingness, or inability, to sell his education reforms to key stakeholders. McInerney has had an almost continuous dialogue on Twitter with Goves  respected special adviser, Sam Freedman , due to move to Teach First as head of research, around this and related  themes.

She says Gove can and should implement the policies he has long championed – free schools, the Ebacc, terminal exams – but through the correct processes.

She blogs ‘ In recent weeks Gove has stomped heavily on the processes of an informed democracy that hold politicians accountable once in power. If a Secretary of State steadfastly refuses to answer questions in the Education Select Committee about their latest reform, this matters for accountability (see Q11-36) . If in that same meeting the Secretary of State says they will ignore the independent regulator’s serious concerns about a GCSE reform, it matters for accountability (see Q46). When the Department for Education has one of the worst response rates to requests for Freedom of Information, it matters for accountability. When the civil service – bound by a code of political impartiality – sends out tweets about teacher strike action which feel to teachers to be heavily politicised, it diminishes an impartially informed democracy. And when significant education policies are announced through the pages of a newspaper that citizens can only access by paying the corporation (the Times) at the centre of 2012’s biggest media scandal, then –surely! – democracy and accountability aren’t just suffering, by now they are on the floor and weeping.’

A little strong, perhaps, but she concludes that Gove does not  have to change his policies simply because people don’t like them, but as part of an informed democracy he does need to convince people he is right.

Certainly Goves performance before the Select Committee recently raised some eyebrows as he refused to discuss with the Committee  Ofquals (well known) concerns about the timetable  for the introduction of the new EBC for reasons, that were not very clear (concerns shared, incidentally, by the exam boards). He must be careful not to allow the perception to be created that he lacks transparency or is being obstructive or ignoring process, as this suggests a lack of confidence in his own policies. It is very easy to become prickly and over defensive if attacked and Gove is, by nature, a courteous and confident debater and advocate.  He is more than capable of making a strong case for his own policies without leaving the impression that he is careless about the need for full transparency and accountability. It would also help in this respect  if his department improved its poor  record(  yes it does have  one of the worst  departmental records )  in responding quickly to requests for information  under the Freedom of Information Act  and in answering parliamentary questions (PQs are supposed to be answered within three days but can take up to six weeks) which junior minister Elizabeth  Truss was  challenged on recently in a Select Committee hearing.


 Young people still  receiving inadequate advice on education choices


Mckinsey have just published an important report ‘Education to Employment’  that seeks to identify why there is such a gap between what businesses and employers  want, and need, and what education systems provide. Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the challenges? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. If employers are not confident that the system delivers what they want, young people  it appears  also lack confidence in the system.  Half of youth are not sure that their post -secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job. Youth unemployment rates are unacceptably high as is the number of young people   who are not in education, employment or training

It has become received wisdom that businessmen need students with more practical vocational skills. While vocational education appears to be a good solution for policymakers, it has, in fact, low or lesser perceived value among students.

This was an important finding. The research compared student “perceptions of value” between traditional education and vocational education and apprentice programmes. In the research every country values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany.. Germany, of course, is a country regarded as something of a model when it comes to practical skills and vocational programmes, with a myriad of apprentice-based programmes and it  has among the lowest  youth unemployment rates in Europe.

Unfortunately, even there vocational programmes are not always seen as the answer. 23% of students who attended vocational programmes there felt they attended the wrong institution, and 42% are unsure they took the right programme. This  is hardly encouraging.

The report also highlights, more generally, the fact that young people are not getting the advice they need at a crucial time of their lives. The report states ‘they face the daunting task of choosing what to study and where to study it. The evidence is distressing:  way too many young people take a wrong turn here.  Fewer than half of those surveyed are confident that if they had to do it again, they would study the same subject. That’s a lot of disappointment; it’s also a sign that students don’t have the information they need to make the right choices.’

In short ,Youth are not well informed when making   educational and career  choices .

The report continues ‘Some 40 percent of youth report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors. Without this understanding, many students choose courses half blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.’ Sounds familiar?

Politicians wax eloquent about social mobility and the importance of making informed choices at critical points in life. Yet a majority of young people do not have access to high quality, independent advice. They might have an ambition, for example, to go to university but  then fail to take the qualifications that they need to achieve this, because they know no better aged 13 and there is nobody there to support them. Its not rocket science. Social mobility cant and wont improve if so many young people  don’t make the choices that maximise their potential. Until politicians grasp this nettle ,nothing will change.