A-Level Results 2011

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 - Employment News, Internship

A-Level Results 2011

As a country, we’ve got education wrong…


Today is the day in the UK when the A-Levels results are announced. Congratulations to those who got their required results, and please don’t give up hope those who didn’t quite get what they wanted. Life still goes on, you can still achieve your ambition, its just going to be via a different – and probably better – route for you.

Now, having dealt with and probably got rid of a bunch of 18year old’s who are heading quickly towards the nearest bar to either celebrate or commiserate, lets deal with the real readers who engaged because of the headline…

As a country, we’ve got education wrong

The problem with the current system, is that its built and rewards one type of education: academic. You see the state gives a bonus reward to each public education unit for its academic results, and adds a bonus multiplier for each graduate that it hands to the next academic level:

  • Primary and junior schools get a bonus for the number of grammar and academy school pupils that they create
  • Secondary schools get a bonus for the number of university entrants that they create. The result: a doubling of the degree entrants in the period 1997-2010.

The theory is that this should lead to improved national economic performance. Now much as though the economy of the East is rising, does dropping back in the same period from the worlds fourth to the world’s seventh largest economy sound like economic development? No, so where’s the problem?

The immigration questions and answer

Well, that’s pretty easy to find if you read the half-year reports of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). MAC is made up of a combination of employers, academics, civil servants and union representatives, and tasked with giving a five year view of skills requirements within the UK. One part of their brief is a report on immediate skills shortages in the employment market, the other part a report on required UK training initiatives to fill long term gaps.

Every April and October, MAC’s reports are published by the Home Office, who allow employers looking for the MAC advised skills to legally recruit from outside the EU, and hence gain sufficient points for these people to be given five year immigration visa’s from the Borders and Immigration Authority. In amongst the list of skills shortages at present, alongside blue collar professions of jockeys, sheep shearers, fish gutters and chefs; are skilled occupations including doctors, nuclear physicists, welders, engineers and – teachers! Specifically, teachers in mathematics, physics and chemistry.

But hang on, you read above that we had doubled the number of degree entrants since 1997? So why do we even have such employment market gaps assessed by MAC?

A quickly expanded higher education system

To expand the academic system in such a quick way, something had to give. Plus personally as a sales person, manager but most importantly trained negotiator; if you tell me how someone is rewarded, I can tell you how to get the most from the: follow the bonus scheme!

The easiest way to get a bonus as a secondary school is to create more ABC grade university entrants. Yet from examination paper results, we know the hardest ABC grades to obtain are those in mathematics and the sciences. So instead of focusing your students on the exams where ABC grades are less likely, why not focus them on the easy stuff: arts, creative stuff? Now I am not saying that arts exams are easy, but look how they are assessed: lots of course work, less marks pertaining to the final examination. I other words, almost the reverse of those tough mathematics and science exams.

Now, lets say you were the Vice-Chancellor of a regional college or polytechnic. You see that there is money to expand, and you want some of that. How could you achieve degree level status? The easiest way is to create a mixed-skills four year sandwich course, which is a bit academic and a bit work orientated, and included one year in the work place. These were the easiest to get past the exam boards for approval, as they had “industry” approval, and hence big points. What did these industry approved courses include? Well, one at a new southcoast university was theatre management. In one academic year alone, they created enough theatre managers to fulfil all the employment positions for theatre managers in the past three years. They were one of six universities offering a theatre managers course.

Academic versus economic expansion

You see the problem in the growth in academic courses has been geared around the central bonus scheme and not the needs of industry, commerce or national economic improvement. Are arts courses all a bad thing? No, as the UK is seen as a globally leading arts centre, particularly in the creative industrial arts of graphic design, where a combination of design and coding makes us one of the leading developers of computer games in the world. We are also seen as a leading creative force in the world of advertising, ranking alongside and often outranking New York. But what has the quick expansion left in its trail? From the evidence, two things:

  • A section of society which is disconnected and left behind economically
  • Clear gaps in our national economic development

In light of the new bonus scheme, schools in less well of and often deprived inner city areas complained that they couldn’t be expected to create large numbers of university entrants, and would hence be left behind. Hence they has a special rewards scheme set-up for them, which bonused on academic results improvements over university development. Therefore if they took in classes of those who were expected to graduate with less the UN agreed educated level of five GCSE’s, and their average student attained that rank, they got a bonus.

Did it matter that the overall result of the whole UK academic system means that technically, 20% of our school leavers are illiterate? No, as long as the school got its bonus. Such attitudes to these minor details multiplied across the whole academic system, resulting in 2010 employers doubling their basic education schemes to graduates. Yes, graduates were found on average to be unable to add up in their heads or on paper, and have poor levels of reading and writing. The average graduate now spends six months on such an employer paid post-graduate basic skills course, before they can be placed into that employers graduate training scheme.

So what happens to the typical 5 GCSE graduate of an inner city school? Gone are the old apprenticeship schemes of old, as gone is much of our industrial capacity. In its place are low-paid service economy sector jobs, which require little training and hence don’t pay too well. Plus with the opening of the EU employment market place, there is a lot more competition from foreign university graduates who want to improve their English: so why bother applying? When due to failings in your school and the system within which it sits, I can see some strong roots and reasons for the recent Tottenham riots.

Industrial skills shortages

What has the current system left for industry? Two major UK companies came out this week and said that due to skills shortages, they were being forced to recruit outside the UK. Firstly BP reported on a general lack of engineering talent, let alone specialists in welding and North Sea operations. Secondly Sir James Dyson complained about the new Borders and Immigration rules on the MAC points system, and the new immigration cap. As a result, Dyson is considering moving their research HQ overseas. What did MAC’s April report advise: a lack of engineers, divers ad welders – just what BP and Dyson need.

Education reform through market pressures

So what should we do to fix our education system? In part, the market pressures will be doing that for us from 2012.

Firstly, the Coalition government faced with mounting debts and a need to fund a growing academic system, has agreed to let universities charge up to £9000 per annum in tuition fee’s. The result is a rush in university places this year, but will lead to a reduction from 2012. Secondly there is a long term reduction in the UK national birth rate, and hence the number of new young people coming to the employment market place. In fact, were it not for immigrant birth rates and EU immigrants, there are arguments that this dip would be even worse economically.

The result, in part driven by their own view of the quality of graduates coming out of the school system, is a return for employers to a degree-based apprenticeship. This week alone, retailer Morrisons announced a £4M scheme to recruit 10,000 new graduate trainee’s direct from schools, who will gain a degree from the University of Bradford as part of a log term management training scheme. Secondly accountants KPMG have announced a global recruitment drive for 75,000 new trainee accountants. The Morrisons scheme is particularly interesting, as they are presently the UK’s largest provider of apprenticeship schemes, covering skills such as butchery and bakery.

It is these economic factors that I see as the best reformers of the academic system. Higher Education Secretary David Willetts announced an opening of the education system with Universities required to tell schools what A-Levels they rank highest in their clearing schemes, but I’d also like to see them publish data on employment post-graduation: into which profession, and how long. Then we won’t see more television news footage of graduates on Theatre manager courses complaining that there are no jobs.

There is much debate at present about the reasons for the Tottenham riots, but part of that is a lack of a future for those who have been totally disconnected through an education system which has failed them, and our commercial present and future. We need to reform it before to both stop the rot in our communities our society and our whole country.

Good Luck!


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5 Responses to “A-Level Results 2011”

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