Saturday, 19 November 2011

Failing Education & Rising Youth Unemployment. Who is To Blame?

So youth unemployment has increased by 67000 this summer and is now running at 1.02 million.

During the 1990's Youth unemployment steadily declined from 700000 to reach a low of 475000 in 1996/7. GCSE's and A Levels, back then, were the respected qualifications valued by employers and universities. From 1997 to 2006/7 Youth unemployment figures increased marginally from 475000 to 512000.

In 2003/2004 the government of the day began changing the education system producing a report entitled  Every Child Matters. A grand sounding strategy that never, in reality, produced any grand results and I know having struggled through those years with YoungNell,  fighting every inch of the way to get proper access to healthcare and education for her and having to pay for it out of our dwindling pension, when the NHS or the education system let us down, which it frequently did and still does,

During this time, NVQ's and BTEC's, previously only available to adults in the workplace who wanted to boost specific areas of work knowledge , were brought in for 14 years olds and between 2003/2006 the uptake on these qualifications by 14 to 18 year olds rocketed by 260% with a matching big reduction in GCSE's and A Levels being studied.

Children with these dumbed down qualifications, which they had been told were the equivalent of GCSE's and A Levels although they weren't , began to enter the workplace in 2007 to 2009. Employers began to complain that youth applicants for jobs had poor educational skills and unsurprisingly between 2007 and 2009, on Ed Balls watch as Secretary of State for Education, youth unemployment exploded upwards from 512000 to 775000.  In 2010 , just before the election , it was 800000 and rising.

Of course I wouldn't have known any of this , in line with most parents I suspect , but for YoungNell.

In Year 8, 2009/2010, her 2nd year of comprehensive, or Academy as it had then become, YoungNell had had a prolonged spell of illness and her school grades were falling. Worried, I took myself off to talk to her Head of Year.

  "Not to worry"  he said complacently  "in this day and age GCSE's aren't everything , plenty of vocational qualifications to be had".

I asked for an explanation never having heard of vocational qualifications.  I didn't like the answer. NVQ's in pedicures and manicures, BTEC's in personal development on why smoking and drugs are bad etc.  Did they sit exams in these subjects ? was my next question.

 "Well , largely tick box type tests"  came back the self satisfied reply "easy peasy, everybody gets a pass"  

I'm afraid the interview ended on a fraught note with me stating that I expected the school to educate YoungNell to GCSE A to C grade standard in the core subjects of Maths, English, the Sciences, History, Geography and French and ensure she was entered for the exams.  Head of House said that was a school matter and not for me, They would tell me what exams she would study for and take, not the other way around,    Hmmm. We parted with frosty politeness and I went away to plan my next battle move.

I researched the comments of children who had 'graduated' with BTEC's in 2009/2010 and found there was a lot of despair amongst students and parents as children coming out of school with these "GCSE equivalents" ,with plans for further education or jobs were going nowhere.  One of the comments made by a disappointed BTEC student published online on TES sticks in my mind :

"Don't do BTEC's or listen to anyone who tells you to take them up. They will tell you they are the equivalent to a GCSE.  They are worthless.  6th Forms do not value BTEC's whatsoever"       I could publish a hundred or more of these sad comments just like this one, about how neither colleges nor employers valued the wretched BTEC's,  but this one says it all.

Next step, interview with the Principal!

Nice man, not used to dealing with a grandparent with set opinions rather than a more easily influenced parent I suspect.  To break the ice he offered me a very decent cup of tea and biscuit and we sat and talked trivia for a few minutes. By the time we got to the nitty gritty he realised I'd done my research and my homework not to mention made my mind up.  I produced statistics for the failure of many BTEC's and statistics for the support of GCSE's , then I explained unequivocally that we had committed a fair portion of our annual pension for the foreseeable future and employed KS3 and would eventually employ KS4 tutors, privately,  in all the GCSE core subjects that we considered were important. If the school was not able to enter YoungNell in the GCSE exams when the time came then we would be finding another means by which to enter her. He smiled rather nicely, spoke enthusiastically about his school and conceded that of course the school would support us in our ambitions for YoungNell.  They would do everything possible to work with the tutors we were employing.  Oh and the school never meant to imply that our views would not be taken into account.  Ha! At least we parted with an amicable handshake.

We've moved on a year since then and education between state and private tutors is going swimmingly for YoungNell.   Meantime Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, commissioned the Wolf report into education which was published in June 2011.  It has completely vindicated my views on vocational qualifications in schools and I have to admit I had to strongly resist the urge to run off a copy and sent it to YoungNell's school with an 'I told you so' letter..

The Wolf Report said two things of great interest to parents & grandparents who are the primary carers of grandchildren .

1.  Perverse incentives for schools have encouraged the teaching of vocational subjects which attract most performance points for the schools but which do not provide the pupil with a qualification that offers a route into further education or employment.

2.  The report recommends that GCSE in English and Maths should be taught to all pupils and that the choice of courses should be what's best for the pupil not what boosts the school's performance tables.

Until I had read this report I had not understood that the performance indicators put in place for schools were also acting, detrimentally against pupils interests. How many parents have?

So who is to blame for the debacle of poor educational skills and rising youth unemployment?

Is it the fault of loony politicians who shamelessly experimented with our educational system without a care for what was likely to happen to childrens futures?

Is it the fault of teachers who must have known they were, and still are, turning children out of school with worthless qualifications that will not get them into further education or a job?

Or is it the fault of parents/grandparents who simply accepted the words of the other two and believed their children were being properly educated for a bright future?

Well I don't know.  But now that I do understand the tragedy that has unfolded I intend to stay closely engaged with YoungNell's education for the duration.


  1. Nice blog Nell. Know you from the Guido blog. Talking to th missus at the moment about how to make the boy's school listen to us...

  2. Just the ticket Nell. See you on Guido. The Admiral

  3. Hi Nell,

    Good post, I too know you from GF. Well done for having a go yourself. I look foward to reading your next post.

  4. Hi Nell,

    Good post, I too know you from GF. Well done for having a go yourself. I look foward to reading your next post.

  5. Hi Nell, spotted your blog via Guido's site - good post!

  6. Nell
    Downloaded Google chrome in English to check [mine are in Dutch and Portuguese]
    right click and go to copy download link.
    Copy download link then appears in the comment box as www.http abcdefg etc but posting it gives the retweet info exactly as per Billy on the thread.
    Hope this helps. It saves you choosing a new browser [Firefox IE etc ] and confusion.
    Love a non