Month: December 2015

The Ofsted Annual Report section on Careers is a bit of a hash

Like a premature Santa who’s elves are simply terrible at making toys, Sir Micheal Wilshaw dropped down everyone’s chimney recently to deliver the Ofsted annual report 2014/15.

It contains a section titled “Preparing for next steps” (from para 45) which looks at CEIAG in schools over the year and delivers the usual rousing pep talk to get us through these dark winter months. The problem is though, some of it seems a bit conflicting with other Ofsted published views.

There is a Case study (between paragraphs 45 and 46) of 6 “low-performing schools in Nottingham” that were visited this year. It seems pretty clear which 6 schools these were by checking the dates on the Ofsted website. The Case study box is not complimentary about CEIAG in those schools

there was a lack of structured plans to raise pupils’ aspirations and extend their understanding of the array of available options

yet 3 of the individual school reports state:

Djangoly City Academy

Careers professionals and teachers guide students to make appropriate course choices well. All students last year accepted places to follow appropriate courses at the academy or post-16 colleges and schools. The course choices were well suited to the aptitudes and aspirations of the students. The academy takes its responsibility seriously to ensure that students make informed and appropriate choices for the next stage of their education.

Nottingham University Samworth Academy

The academy has strengthened its arrangements to support careers information and guidance. ‘Futures Fridays’ provide regular opportunities for pupils to learn about different employment and study choices from Year 8 onwards.

Ellis Guilford School

Students benefit from clear impartial careers guidance to plan their career pathways. Very few students do not remain in education, training or employment at the end of Year 11, reflecting their recently raised aspirations

which seems contradictory in the least.

Even more so when you look at the Education Destination measures for those last two schools and see that Nottingham University Samworth Academy and Ellis Guilford School have the two highest percentages in the town for “education destination not sustained.” Which all prompts the question, how much worth do the verdicts on CEIAG in school reports hold?

Which leads to Paragraph 46 which tells us that

In only a very small proportion of secondary school reports this year, 52 inspectors found practice in preparing pupils for employment through work experience or links with business and industry that merited inclusion in the inspection report.

The footnote goes onto explain that, while reviewing 290 inspection reports, only 5% contained positive comments relating to a schools relationships to businesses or work experience. Now, apart from not knowing the methodology there (did someone just F3 their way through every report PDF searching for “business”?), we should bear in mind the inspection regime for 2014/15. Outstanding schools were no longer routinely inspected and the Ofsted handbook section on CEIAG included this short section:

154. Inspectors should explore:
 the extent to which the school has developed and implemented a
strategy for ensuring that all pupils in Years 8 to 13 receive effective
careers guidance
 the impact of this guidance in helping young people to make
informed choices about their next steps
 how well the school meets the needs of all vulnerable groups of
pupils, including reducing the numbers who do not continue to
education, employment or training
 how well the school works with families to support them in
overcoming the cultural obstacles that often stand in the way of the
most able pupils from deprived backgrounds attending university.

I’m sure that schools with frequent links to business or (when the inspection occurred) a recent visit to an employer would’ve have highlighted that to the inspector. I know I did when my school was inspected and yet this didn’t make the final report. Inspection reports are not verbatim records of visits and would be unwieldy  and pointless documents if they were. Inspectors use their expertise and handbooks to guide their writing of the final report and using the absence of a mention of business links isn’t proof it wasn’t mentioned and that it doesn’t happen. A much better method would’ve have been to quote the specific survey work that has been undertaken in this area.

Which all leads to a muddled and less then satisfying verdict on CEIAG in schools from the schools inspectorate but, not to worry, with a new strategy on careers coming from the Government, another select committee inquiry on the way and another focused survey from Ofsted, there’ll be plenty for everyone to mull over in the new year.



Apprenticeship levy griping

Every Autumn statement or Budget announcement delivers a lot for newspapers to spin and economists to pore over. November’s effort introduced one new “levy” (read: tax) specifically to be used to meet the Government target of 3 million apprenticeship starts before the end of the parliament. The Apprenticeship Levy will, from April 2017 to 2020, raise £3bn by imposing a 0.5% payroll tax on companies whose annual wage bill is greater than £3m to be used exclusively to fund electronic vouchers which all companies can redeem with colleges and training providers to pay for apprenticeship training. An insight into how this may affect different industries can be found here.

The eternal cry from the business community is that the “skills gap” is a huge headwind on the strength of the economy. This 2013 document from the CBI says that,

One way to address the skills mismatch is to develop more partnership-based provision, with greater levels of business involvement in colleges and universities, as well as boosting apprenticeships

and that

It’s time to stop talking about Germany and start building a British skills system that works

So now the Chancellor has proposed a method of funding that provision. It’s by no means a comprehensive plan, there are no targets for the Levels of apprenticeships to come and many believe the entire concept of a 3 million starts target is barmy to begin with for the risk it proposes to the quality of the jobs on offer.

With this dearth of available skills from the work force you would imagine that the levy would be welcomed by the business community for the opportunity to take charge of a large pot of training funding. The Federation of Small Businesses (whose members won’t pay the levy) said, “We support the decision to use payroll as a measure to determine which businesses pay the levy, as opposed to headcount. It recognises that not all businesses will be able to afford to pay.” Larger firms (who will be paying the levy) reacted with much less warmth claiming that this, and other costs such as the forthcoming Living Wage, will hurt businesses. The CBI also weighed in, “The Apprenticeship Levy, set at 0.5%, is a significant extra payroll tax on business and by widening the net it will now catch more smaller firms.”In contrast, the IFS predicted the levy will only require contributions from 2% of firms.

To my mind, it’s hard to find much sympathy with those complaints for a number of reasons:

  1. These rises are against of backdrop of falling taxes, the Chancellor’s budget plans to lower what is already the G20s lowest corporate tax rate to 18% by 2020.
  2. The stories about the low amounts of tax paid by firms that corporation tax is meant to tempt into the country keep coming.
  3. The OBR prediction that firms will just lower wages to compensate so won’t actually feel the pinch of this new tax themselves anyway.
  4. And let’s not forget that if firms hire a 16-18 for their Apprenticeship vacancy the full training cost is met by the Government, from April 2016 they won’t have to pay NI for Apprentices under 25 and there is a lower minimum wage for this age group so there’s plenty of incentives on offer to use these routes when recruiting.

Whether or not the levy in the proposed format is the right tool in the tool kit to increase the number of high level apprenticeships on offer seems up for genuine debate. The distance the UK has to travel in this regard is stark

but business groups who bemoan that Higher Education (annual Government funding: £12.1bn) is seen as a more desirable route than Apprenticeships (annual Government funding: approx £1.4bn page 5 on the Parliamentary briefing linked above) but then also bemoan paying for an increase in spending on apprenticeships will find their protests ring a little hollow.