Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Reducing 16-19 year old drop out rates

It is 9 months since Gordon Brown announced in the budget speech his plans to erradicate the education drop-out out rates for 16-19 year olds. Obviously, this involves not just academic but also vocational courses. At the time he said the main reason for this was to compete on a level playing field with the emergent economies of China and India.

On the 14th December the DOE produced a 10-year timetable to phase in 14 new vocational diplomas that aims at reducing drop out rates from 25% to 10%.

Ignoring the fact that this doesn't actually mirror Gordon Brown's actual statement in the budget my main worry is funding. Don't get me wrong I'm very much in support of the broad ideal, but I do have some worries.In the 100 page document produced by the DOE, there is no mention of the funding this is going to require to fully implement, which worries me greatly.

The subject marries two of my pet subjects quite effectively. The first is to do with the reduction in the number of vocational apprenticeships available and the second is children's engagement with the education system.


Apprenticeships were the standard way in which many young men would learn a manual skilled trade until relatively recently. My father in law did a 6 year engineering apprenticeship in Liverpool in the 60s. He became a very highly qualified heating engineer and is now an engineering project manager specialising in the implemetation and fitting of cooling clean air systems in operating theatres. He is now required to attend around 3 week long 'refresher courses' to relearn skills that are innate as a result of his apprenticeship. However, he has to have these certificates to hit all the health and safety qualifications for the job. It is estimated that the refresher courses cost his company around £11,000 once you have calculated course cost, admin cost and the cost of replacing him for the week. He believes that there would be no need to do these courses if long-term apprenticeships were still standard within professions. However, short termism means that apprenticeships are breaking down as the best are poached straight out of the system.

The disappearance of the apprenticeship has also had another more hidden but just as devastating social impact in my opinion. Stephen Biddulph in his book 'Raising Boys' suggests that one of the key factors in the breakdown of discipline in boys is the reduction in extra-familial role models. His argument is based on the fact that as the global economy progresses we have become increasingly geographically isolated from our extended family and the support that they provide, but also increased working hours mean that care-givers are out of the home for longer. The apprenticeship however, provided a very important 3rd party role model at a time when boys could traditionally come off the rails. This is now missing and I think is a major factor in some of the apathy that has crept in due to a missing work ethic and a lack of direction. Although I welcome more focus on vocational courses for the non-academically inclined I can't see vocational courses providing the same level of training and one to one mentoring that occurred in the traditional apprenticeship.

My second point addresses the funding of these proposals. We are currently one of only 3 countries in Europe that send out children to school at 4/5 years old. The vast majority send their children a year later. At 4/5 children (and boys in particular) have been proved to have not developed the ability to concentrate for the requisite amount of time for structured learning to really be of the gretaest benefit. It often means that Year 1 primary teachers are trying to manage the needs of individuals within their class who are suffering from this lack of attention and as a result are struggling to teach the whole class. In my opinion the most important function of Year 1 is to instil a love of learning as it is this that will sutain a child right through to graduation. If a teacher is not able to do that because they are trying to keep control of the class then you can lose children even before they've started. For this reason I'm a huge advocate of moving the starting age by 1 year, this would not only solve some of the engagement issues but also provide some of the budget required to support the DOE's new initiative.


Gavin Corder said...

I totally agree with your point about apprenticeships. It is spin lunacy to massage the figures - and the result is an unskilled workforce of filing clerks and a nation dependent on Eastern European immigrants for any useful task to be performed.

But I don't agree that children are not ready for school at 4. Mine started at rising 3 but in independent school with only 8 children in the class. They all loved it.

Six Years Late said...

Gavin. Independent school is a different matter. I agree if we had the luxury of smaller classes and a consistent flow through from play to more structured learning from pre-school to primary age often with the same teacher, but certainly in the same environment then that has a very positive impact.

When you have intake classes of 25 to 30 you start to lose any ability to have true dialogue which is essential to structured learning. I would rather give children who do not have the option of Independent education a lengthier time in playgroups before they have to sit down and pay attention.

The Great Simpleton said...


Agree on apprenticeships. I would love to see them returned and started at 15 or even 14.

It won't happen though because we all want lots of moey right from the start and youngsters don't want to start at the bottom and spend 4 or 5 years learnng the basics.

Being married to a former Reception teacher you are right on school starting ages, especially for boys. Gavin's comments asside, they aren't ready for structured learning which is really where the problem lies.

The school starting age has been lowered to allow women to return to work. Fair enough but in that case we should allow teachers to spend the first year teaching social skills through play and let them learn at the pace they want.

Gavin Corder said...

Agreed little ones are totally lost in classes of 25 or more. That's why I stumped up for the fees.

I truly believe that all children should have similar advantage but to have witheld the opportunity from my children on a point of political principle would be hideously wrong - like leaving your child in pain on an NHS waiting list when if you pay you could relieve their agony...

Six Years Late said...

Completely agree Gav

John Brooks said...

Agree that it would be nice to have 'proper' apprenticeships again. But we're starting from where we are, and have to consider the negative effects of the education system as it is. Plus effects of other factors on kid's attention-span, such as watching too much TV.

I try to operate efficiently as a one-man-band heating engineer. It would be great to have someone to help out.

But it would mean:
- taking on an unknown quantity for a LONG time, with the risk of getting someone who turned out to be absolutely useless at the job - there's no practical way to assess talent in advance because schools don't / can't offer realistic references!

- accepting the cost of ALL the apprentice's costs of employment, PLUS my loss of productivity while I supervise them. These costs could easily turn overall profit into loss!

- and then watch the ungrateful little blighter leave at the drop of a hat while still half-trained and fully inexperienced (!) on the promise of more money elsewhere.

Sorry - too much cost and risk.

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