31 July 2007

Prolonging The Agony Of School

Cross-posted, with permission, from the ever excellent "Burning Our Money" blog, an analysis of just how much this appallingly stupid idea is (but note, he really doesn't like the provenance of some of the figures) likely to cost us in additional government spending:

New designs for the staff room

Raise the school leaving age to 18? Teachers think it's a shocking idea. Geraldine Everett, chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers, says:

“Here is a Government that has toyed with the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 in order to promote a greater sense of citizenship among our young people. Yet it proposes to extend compulsory education or training to 18, to compel the already disaffected to, in their perception, prolong the agony.

To make them conscripts is likely to reinforce failure, leading to even greater disaffection. Enforcement could lead to mass truancy, further disruption to other learners and staff, maybe even needless criminalisation if enforcement measures are imposed.”

Of course, the commissars will not listen to the teachers. Piff! What do they know?

Instead they will impose yet another top-down half-baked Plan to tick yet another box- moving Britain up the league table of "educational participation".

But as we all surely know, truancy is already a major problem, particularly in the tough inner city schools where raising the leaving age will cause the worst damage. One pupil in five already plays truant. And there is no top-down government Plan that can fix it: Labour's much vaunted anti-truancy programme has already cost us £1.5bn but has been a total flop, with truancy hitting record levels (eg see this blog).

And what will it all cost? Ah well, the commissars don't really want to discuss that. The white paper Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16 bangs on at huge length about the supposed- though unquantified- benefits, but virtually nothing about the costs (cf the cost-free Newsom Report which ushered in comprehensivisation- see this blog). Last week, Schools Minister Jim Knight (yes, him again) would only say:

"We plan to raise the participation age to 17 from September 2013 and 18 from September 2015. This will not involve additional costs over current plans in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. We estimate that it will incur additional capital costs of £28.2 million in 2010-11 and £19.7 million in 2011-12, and additional training costs of £0.2 million in 2010-11 and £0.5 million in 2011-12."

So that's about £50m.

But of course there's much more. The Local Government Association tracked down some further figures (taken from the department's Regulatory Impact Assessment). They run through them, adding their own commentary:
  • £593m pa once ‘steady state’ is reached- to include ongoing staff and running costs; but as is so often the case, the RIA "does not explain how this is calculated"

  • £50m pa for "tracking, attempting to engage and enforcing the duty (including bringing any prosecutions)"; that doesn't sound nearly enough given that local authorities will need to hire Gomulka Associates to "enforce duties" on the North Peckham Estate, say

  • £6.7m pa for Attendance Orders for young people failing to participate as part of a civil process; an amazingly precise figure, but again, "there is no explanation as to how this is calculated"

  • £3.38m pa legal costs- many kids won't want to be enforced, so there'll be lots of criminal court action: legal aid costs between £0.25m and £0.7m, court costs up to £2.5m, plus £0.18m aid for disgruntled hoodies sueing local authorities; all amazingly precise figures that can't be worth the paper they're written on

  • £90m pa on additional educational maintenance awards

  • £121m for additional staff training- presumably that's training in fending off knife attacks armed only with a stick of chalk

  • £81m on additional buildings, including strongpoint panic rooms for teachers

Tot it all up and you get to set-up costs of £202m and ongoing costs of £743.08m.

And if you believe that, you'll believe anything.

You can sign a petition against raising the leaving age here.

Wat Tyler

Comment: Appreciating that Wat's focus is on the cost to the taxpayer, I would add this does not correctly sum the cost to the economy. There will also be a number of additional costs, not least the opportunity cost of putatively productive young adults sat in classrooms, ignoring teacher or, as ThunderDragon pointed out, skiving off, rather than being at work. S-E

30 July 2007

Educational Conscription Will Cause Mass Truancy

Cross-posted from The ThunderDragon:

Labour's plan to force children to stay in school until 18 is a bad idea, and it is now claimed by Geraldine Everett, chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers that it will cause "mass truancy":

"Extending the school leaving age is a potential minefield if not handled sensitively...
Here is a Government that has toyed with the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 in order to promote a greater sense of citizenship amongst our young people.
Yet it proposes to extend compulsory education or training to 18, to compel the already disaffected to, in their perception, prolong the agony...
Enforcement could lead to mass truancy, further disruption to other learners and staff, maybe even needless criminalisation if ‘enforcement measures’ are imposed."
I have argued against this plan many times - back in November when it was first proposed, in January when it put forward as a plan, and again in March when it was released as a green paper. This group blog, Educational Conscription, was also set up to argue against the plan.

Many school leavers go into work at minimum wage levels and work their way up - supermarket/retail work being a prime example. If they have to provide specific and tailored accredited training to these people, I doubt many shops will bother.

Quite simply, those who want to continue to learn already continue to stay on in school. It doesn't cost them any money, unlike university, so finances play little part in their decisions - that will be down to not wanting to go to school any more.

Those who want to study, will. Those who don't will either go and disrupt everyone else who want to learn or just play truant, and face a fine and possible criminal record - something that is unlikely to aid them in getting a job. Instead of making them stay in education now, make it easier for them to return to adult education, when they want to learn.


24 July 2007

"Skills gap" rhetoric - but where's the beef?

A couple of months ago I wrote:

The idea that, in the words of the Green Paper, the UK economy “will increasingly demand more highly skilled employees” is regularly trotted out to justify the relentless expansion, at the taxpayer’s expense, of “education”. As far as I’m aware, no political party now questions (or dares to question) this principle. But it strikes me as hopelessly undefined, unanalysed, unsupported by hard data, and probably false.

Could someone please direct me to some actual cogent reasoning in favour of expanding state-financed education? Something less handwaving than the usual “New Economy … different skills … more training … cannot compete”?
My hopes were raised by a Financial Times Survey published last week entitled “Understanding the Skills Gap”. Surely the FT would finally provide some cogent economic arguments to explain the nature of the skills gap, and why it calls for additional government intervention. Not just the usual handwaving stuff we get from the other broadsheets (another dose was provided on Sunday, by David Smith).

Sadly, it was not to be. Apart from alluding repeatedly to the Leitch Report, no useful analytical arguments were made in clarifying the nature of the “skills gap”, beyond the fact that the UK has a basic literacy and numeracy problem.

At some point I suppose I shall have to wade through the LR itself – when I have time. (Someone like me, i.e. without a pro-state bias, should be being paid to do so, but I doubt they are.) Meanwhile, here is a selection of the best would-be pearls of wisdom from the FT Survey.
Britain fails to make the OECD top 10 for basic literacy and numeracy skills … [or for] graduate skills.
No surprise there. The basic problem is, many people emerging from state schools at the age of 16 still haven't learnt how to write or add up. No reason to think another two years of the same will do it. But what are "graduate skills"? We are not told.
For the economy to continue growing, UK workers … need to be better equipped to do their jobs. [No further analysis is provided, so this is a fairly vacuous statement.]
The Director-General of British Chambers of Commerce: “As I go round the country, every company I speak to is using as much migrant labour as it can get hold of. It is always for the same reasons: workers from Poland come with far better skills and a better attitude.” This suggests the real skills gap is partly one of mindset. A problem hardly likely to be solved by forcing pupils to stay on even longer in environments in which they would otherwise not choose to remain.
To be among the top eight most skilled countries in the world, the UK will need: 2.3m more people with literacy skills; 5.1m more with numeracy skills ... and about 5.5m with experience of higher education.
Literacy, numeracy — these are self-explanatory. But what is the benefit of "higher education" supposed to be? No explanation is given.

Employer body SEMTA tells us that:
70 per cent of jobs where there are skills shortages are among technical and engineering skills or craft, operator and technician occupations, with the biggest problem in machine operation.
Nothing which two years of extra compulsory schooling will help with. What about compulsory training in those occupations? Possibly, if you believe (as Labour seems to be starting to) that market failures of this kind are best solved by means of coercion.

SEMTA also tells us that
most companies now provide some sort of induction or conversion programme for new employees - especially recent graduates - to get used to what the company needs in terms of teamwork, communication and problem-solving.
For this, try reading: "Most companies are now forced to provide a programme which remedies the deficiences of GCSE education, and to get people used to the idea that businesses — unlike some comprehensive schools — are not anarchic hellholes of unruliness and despair, or X-generation enclaves like some so-called universities."

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reports: "Our members are reporting generally negative experiences of the government institutions and bodies set up to promote skills." Asked to say something positive about the Leitch Report, the CIPD can apparently only come up with: "it is less prescriptive than some that we have seen in the past."

The Institute of Employment Studies agrees that "so far a lot of employers are sceptical of the government's efforts to close the skills gap and most are fairly indifferent."

A single dissident sceptical note by a journalist about the Leitch Report is sounded by the FT’s Martin Wolf (give that man a medal for cutting through bull):
The Leitch report looks like just another in a series of proposals to remedy the failures of schooling.
Yes, but the report is being used to justify another two years of that same schooling, by depriving seventeen-year olds of their right to decide how to live their lives; rather than considering a far less extreme solution: abolishing state education. Well, it's less extreme, morally speaking.

11 July 2007

Good news from the Great Clunking Fist?

There seems to be some movement in the great Brown programme. Clearly, 'tis the BBC, so not the most trustworthy pronouncer on the doings of our ruling class but:

There will be an "educational opportunity" Bill so all young people can stay in education or training to the age of 18, Gordon Brown told MPs.

Is a lot better than "must stay in education ...". It is the compulsion that is evil, not the opportunity or, even, if it is appropriate, encouragement or incentives for learning. Although, in my opinion, some people are better for getting a decent taste of work and then coming back to learning in a couple of years, as per the previous post (or decades, for some :).


9 July 2007

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

I have been deferring posting here as I have been waiting to chat with a couple of Senior school teachers and a Head that I know reasonably well. The opportunity has not arisen, however I did talk to someone from one of the examining boards. Whilst any increase in papers taken will obviously be good for business, they reflected that they personally couldn't wait to leave school at Sixteen and get a real job. My Wife was of a similar view, joining British Telecom at Sixteen, going through an apprenticeship and then being sponsored by BT to do an IT degree in later years when her abilities shone through.

Sometimes youngsters don't really show their potential in their Teens or lack the maturity to take education seriously.

I give a final example- myself. Whilst always being in the top stream through the fairly bog-standard Comprehensive I attended, by the time I reached Sixth Form I was more interested in Music, drink, doing Discos, my part time stage crew job and general stagecraft than the drudgery of Maths, Physics & Chemistry "A" Levels. I coasted through the two years and failed big time, closing some doors but opening others.

I was one of the bright kids and I didn't really want to be there (although I did assume I'd be going to University). Should we have forced the other 250 kids to stay on under duress? We were the first wave of the ROSLA genration and I can remember a number of disaffected Fifth Formers who were simply disruptive because they had no desire to be there at all. The troublemakers were collectively known as ROSLAS...

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was my downfall- and also my renaissance...