Posts Tagged ‘Vocational Training’

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 4

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies: A Lesson in Failure

Beckett makes it very clear that academies are a failed policy. They don’t bring the improvements they are touted as bringing, and the scale of their failure is shown by the way that New Labour was determined to change, expand and prop up the system. They were originally intended to improve and turn around failing schools. That has stopped, as they are now the preferred choice for building schools. The ‘city’ part of their names has also been dropped, as that was considered to link them too closely with failing inner city schools. So now they’re just ‘academies’. He states that they are an attack on the 1944 requirement of local authorities to provide education for all children in their areas. Local authorities are now required to ‘commission’ schools, not provide them directly or run them. He also cites a New Labour crib sheet to provide spin doctors with the answer they need for critics of the system, which states that they are to take schools out of the control of Local Education Authorities, which are to be destroyed.

The Return of the 11 Plus

He wonders why the system is being promoted, when it is so obviously a failure. He speculates that, apart from undermining the 1944 education act, it serves another purpose: the return of channelling the less able into vocational education. He notes that before the abolition of the 11 Plus, the educationally able were supposed to go to grammar schools, while the less academically gifted went to technical colleges to learn manual or technical trades. This is coming back, with some academies specialising in GNVQs for their less academically gifted pupils. The private school, which became an academy, meanwhile is definitely retaining GCSEs, and will specialise in languages. So it’s effectively hanging on to its grammar school status, even if it is not, technically, a grammar school any longer.

Beckett states that the return of vocational education and what is effectively the 11 plus is not a policy any socialist party can openly admit to pursuing, and so Blair was bringing it in through the back door of the academies.

What Should Replace Them?

In the last chapter, he discusses what should replace academies. He acknowledges that they were set up to answer a real need – that of failing schools, some of which were in appalling conditions. He argues that there is a need to reform and abolish Local Education Authorities. There are too many of them, and some of them are very small, too small to be effective. Furthermore, less and less power and importance is being given to local authorities anyway, and education is just one of a number of services local councils provide. But he is impressed with how much people care about education, and how much time and energy local people invest in their schools. He therefore argues for the creation of Local Education Councils, whose members are democratically elected, with wide powers over the schools in their areas, and which are outside the stifling tangle of local government regulations. These LECs may choose to approach sponsors, but they would have ultimate control over the schools, not the other way around, as it is now with academies.

My own feeling is that academies are being promoted for much more cynical reasons by the industrial and political elites. They give power to industry, which then gives money to the political parties. It’s another part of the corporatist corruption of politics in Britain and also in America, as many of the companies seeking to set up academies over here, were also involved in setting up charter schools up on the other side of the Pond. Those angling to get a cut of the action in the academy chains include one Rupert Murdoch, through his sideline in educational publishing (don’t laugh).

Academies and Nicky Morgan’s Lies

This mess needs to be cleaned out, and cleaned out now. No new academies are to be built, and I fully agree with Beckett that ways need to be explored to return those that have been to full state control. They are a massive failure. So far 25 academy chains this year have had to be taken over by the state. But you wouldn’t know that from Thick Nicky Morgan’s interview on the Beeb, where she consistently refused to answer his question, and just kept repeating what she’d been told about how unfair it was to keep failing schools open and deny parents the opportunity of seeing their children succeed in an academy. As we’ve seen, this is rubbish. Parent’s ain’t presented with a choice so much as a command: you will get an academy, whether you like it or not.

It’s high time to throw out academies, and the Blairites and Tories with them.

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Neil Kinnock in 1987 on Tory Cuts to Apprenticeships and Vocational Training

June 1, 2014

Kinnock Book

I found Neil Kinnock’s book, Making Our Way (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986) in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday. It was written by the former leader of the Labour party, now an EU commissioner in Brussels, to make the case for the Labour party and genuinely socialist policies against the Thatcher administration. Unfortunately, after losing the election the following year, in 1987, Kinnock and the party’s leadership gradually rejected these, and turned from promoting manufacturing industry to courting and promoting the financial sector instead. This was done by Mo Mowlam and Gordon Brown in the party’s ‘prawn cocktail’ offensive, which eventually produced Blair and New Labour. The book’s arguments are still sound, however, and in many ways similar to those in Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger and Adam Sharples (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986).

One of the areas of government policy criticised by Kinnock is the attack and cuts to vocational training and education. The red-headed leader points to the fact that Britain’s industrial competitors, such as German and Japan, placed a very high emphasis on creating a skilled workforce that could serve their manufacturing economy. This was reflected in their school systems, which also included vocational, technical education. Science and engineering were also much more respected and promoted, so that these countries had many more of these to work in industry. Advocates of greater support and promotion of engineering in British education, for example, have for a long time pointed out that while in Britain the term ‘engineer’ may refer simply to metal-worker – a skilled or semi-skilled worker, for example, in Germany it’s status is much higher, and will denote professors of engineering and highly skilled technicians on a level with scientists. Kinnock also points out that Germany also has a far higher number of apprenticeships, designed to provide young workers with the skills they need. Yet in England, the number of apprenticeships was not only smaller, but actually declining. Kinnock describes this, and criticises the Youth Training Scheme, the government scheme that was introduced to combat unemployment by teaching young workers industrial skills. He writes

When the impact of government policies on training is examined an equally alarming picture emerges. The traditional method of vocational education and training for the 16-19 age group – or, at least, boys in that age group – has been the apprenticeship. But during the last few years the numbers of apprentices starting in British industry has declined drastically, from 120,000 in 1979 to 40,000 in 1983, while in the latter year in GErmany 620,000 young people were beginning high-quality apprenticeships. The decline in the number of apprenticeships has been due partly to the massive contraction of manufacturing industry and partly to cuts in government support for local government. Little of the reduction has come as a result of the modernization or reform of initial training. And while government economic policies were wiping out apprenticeship opportunities, the government was also closing Skillcentres, abolishing 16 Industry Training Boards and withdrawing Exchequer support for industrial training and retraining. Apologists for the government insist, of course, that the operations of the Manpower Services Commission and the Youth Training Scheme in particular are more than making up for these losses. It is true that the efforts of people in the MSC, the YTS and the associated activities can produce training of high quality. But the scale of that standard of provision is simply not great enough to compensate for the losses, let alone meet modern training and retraining needs in a country where mass unemployment adds to the crises causes by a history of undertraining.

The apprenticeship system, the Training Boards, the Skill-centres all fell short of perfection. But they have not been replaced by a superior system meeting the comprehensive training skill supply of the nation. They have been replaced by forms of mass provision which beautify the unemployment figures but too frequently fail to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy.

The YTS has the advantage that it is universal and, at long last, is being extended to two-year duration. But that extension, the facility for qualification, the opportunities for continuing education and the resources for instruction and for payment to trainees have been grudgingly granted. As a result, Tory politicians have not met the requirements identified by those experienced in education and training. The arguments of the latter should be heeded. They are not empire-building and they do not make the case for greater quality or quantity of support and improved programme content and opportunity out of selfishness. Rather, they recognise that half-hearted provision means downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

Given the history of deficiency in British training and the division in attitudes and therefore expectations between ‘education’ and ‘training’ in our country, it was not surprising that the approach to change should be faltering, cautious and prone to the errors of snobbery, conservatism and complacency. In many ways, change on the scale that has been needed for decades would amount to a cultural, educational and industrial revolution against ignorance, short-sightedness, convention and vested interests. The decades have certainly passed; and some of the change has come – but slowly, and circumstances now require urgency. That urgency is simply not manifested by the government, and industry, with a few honourable exceptions, has neither the will nor the feeling of obligation to meet large-scale additional provision spontaneously.

Trained and educated human abilities, the incomparable requirement of resilient economic recovery and advance for the Britain of the 1990s and beyond are not being developed to anything like the extent necessary to meet national needs. The seed corn is either being devoured, as education and training are cut or constrained, or not even being planted. The consequences for the harvest are clear and awful. (pp. 140-2).

The situation has changes since then. Higher education has been massively expanded to the point where about 45 per cent of school leavers go on to university and there was an attempt, back in the 1990s, to reintroduce apprenticeships. The main argument, however, is as true as ever. Britain’s industrial base was deliberately decimated by Thatcher to break the back of the unions and produce a prostrate, servile workforce ready for exploitation. The various workfare and WRAG schemes are the result of this. This is intended to give the impression that the government is actively trying to give new skills to the workforce and maintain the illusion that there are still jobs out there, for anyone willing to make an effort. The reality is that simply the opposite. There are few jobs, with a vast number of candidates competing for them. And this is precisely what is demanded by the Chicago school of economists, like von Hayek and Milton Friedman, who inspired Thatcher. Their theories demand an unemployment rate of 6 per cent to keep wages down. All the while, of course, giving cheap, publicly subsidised labour to business, including big firms like Tesco’s that definitely don’t need it.

And so what Kinnock said about the YTS applies in spades to them. Workfare is indeed a form of mass provision which beautifies the unemployment figures but too frequently fails to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy. They are a ‘half-hearted provision’ which has produced downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

It’s time workfare, and the whole benighted Tory approach to manufacturing industry and a genuinely skilled workforce was thrown out with them and the other Thatcherite ideological rubbish, before another thirty years goes past.

Ernest Bevin’s Reforms for the Disabled

May 10, 2014

Ernest Bevin pic

Yesterday I managed to get hold of Francis Williams’ biography of the great trade unionist and Labour politician, Ernest Bevin, Bevin was born in Winsford in Somerset, and started his political career in Bristol, where he joined the Bristol Socialist Society, a branch of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and founded the T.G.W.U. with Harry Gosling. He later became foreign minister under Clement Attlee.

Among his achievements was legislation compelling firms to employ the disabled, and setting up the Disabled Person’s Employment Corporation to promote factories for them. Williams describes this work as follows:

This constant feeling for men and women as human beings came out strongly in the training schemes he set up to try to make sure that as far as war conditions allowed people were fitted into the sort of job they would do well and feel successful at. And it showed particularly in his anxiety to give disabled men and women the best possible chance to establish themselves in the community. One of his dearest ambitions found its expression in the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act which established a register of disabled persons – not those disabled in war service only but all disabled over sixteen – and made it compulsory for firms with over twenty persons to engage a percentage of employees from this register. He set up a Disabled Persons’ Employment Corporation to start factories for those unlikely to obtain work on their own account and launched vocational training and industrial rehabilitation courses, including a residential rehabilitation centre, to help the disabled to master new skills. In all this he emphasized that what must be kept in mind was not only that it was important for the nation to be able to command all the labour resources possible but even more the effect upon a disabled man’s own sense of status, of his feeling of being needed and of having a place in the community, if he could master new skills. Feeling so strongly about this he put this side of his Ministry’s work directly in charge of his Parliamentary Under Secretary George Tomlinson, later Minister of Education, because ” George cares for people’. (Ernest Bevin: Portrait of A Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952) 224).

The contrast with the present administration is striking. Instead of caring for people, it has put the departments supposedly supporting the most vulnerable under petty sadists and tyrants, like Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Instead of empowering the disabled and unemployed and supporting their feelings of self-worth, they have done the exact opposite. And instead of actively supporting the employment of the disabled in workshops set up specifically for them, they have done the opposite and closed Remploy’s workshops down.

IDS touted his Universal Credit and welfare reforms as the greatest since the abolition of slavery. This spiteful and malicious individual is massively deluded. The real reformers were Bevin and his fellows. IDS, McVey and their cronies have done nothing but destroy their legacy of equality and empowerment.