Anne Milton

The CEC is heading into tricky strategic waters

careers_logo

Since it’s inception I would hope that this blog has been viewed as being demanding but fair to the Careers and Enterprise company. While some of their early work seemed more suited to the corporate sphere rather than the transparent world of the public sector they have since been given an wider remit by the Government, weathered (what in my view) has been some grandstanding but empty criticism from Robert Halfon and expanded their offer to schools and colleges through Careers Hubs, online tools and other funding streams. With this context, my position is that the sector should welcome that the DfE is funding careers work and tasking the CEC with looking at a fuller variety of careers provision rather than just the original remit of facilitating employer encounters. The DfE Guidance for Schools and Colleges has done much to focus attention and add impetus and importance to the CEC in the minds of School and College Senior Leaders. This work should be continued and built upon further. My fear for the future though is that the CEC is having to stray into tricky political waters.

Targets

As an indicator of their increased transparency, the CEC now publishes it’s annual grant funding letter. This sets out the clear targets and expectations of the DfE for the CEC and indicates the funding allocated to each strand of work

The DfE has determined those targets to have value and some of the data points around training, allocation of funds and sharing of best practice seem sensible for system improvement but overall these outcomes are very technical and input based. Key performance indicators such as “55% of schools and colleges in the Wave 1 Careers Hubs fully achieving Gatsby Benchmark 6” or “70,000 young people reached in Wave 1 Opportunity Areas by August 2019” are admirable in their specificity and adherence to the Gatsby research but also bring a danger for the CEC as they are ultimately lacking in both political and public impact.

Since it’s inception the CEC has received over £95 million (with £24.3 million of that for 2019/20). The issue here is not in terms of figures (careers work needs funding) but when Ministers have to justify previous and future expenditure. The DfE will need to present outcomes for this flagship policy to both political audiences (at Education Select Committees and in Parliament) and to the pubic through achievements that, they hope, will resonate with voters at election times.

We have already seen the CEC struggle to articulate their progress and achievements at two Eduction Select Committee sessions where the questions focused on the need to prove outcomes for students while Claudia Harris and Christine Hodgson’s answers relied on data showing the input provision that had been enacted. In Parliament and in previous speeches by Ministers, there has been confusion over the aims of the CEC. This mismatch between expectation of delivery and what is achieved is what will prove to be tricky for the CEC to manage.

The need for a compelling message

In 2016 I attended a session at an Education and Employers research conference where two ex-DfE civil servants spoke about the need to distill research and outcomes down to the simplest, most concise summary possible so that Ministers can digest and cascade it. They did not quite advocate Trumpian levels of “put in as many pictures as possible” but their reasons as to why the “4 or more employer engagements” research broke through so successfully are worth the attention of the CEC when considering promoting their work to MPs and the public.

The narrative battle

However, the CEC is tasked with showing progress against those very technical key performance indicators in their grant funding letter. Previously they achieved this through annual State of the Nation reports but now have released data which has gone further by showing progress against the Gatsby Benchmarks broken down to Local Enterprise Partnership level. This shows a

contrasting picture across the country, with the top performing areas made up of largely coastal and economically disadvantaged communities, while the bottom is made up almost exclusively of affluent counties.

This (with the caveat of noting that Compass is self reported data) is a positive picture indicating a large swell of change in CEIAG provision levels for young people and work. Unfortunately this does not translate to the mantra of keeping your outcomes simple and easily understood. Compare that positive picture based on Gatsby Benchmarks and the accompanying TES article from Anne Milton with other policy and research data released in the very same week as the CEC LEP level data. First came the Impetus Youth Jobs Report which utilised the LEO dataset

In March 2017 (the latest date we can analyse using the data we have access to) 26% of disadvantaged young people were NEET, compared to 13% of their better-off peers. This is the equivalent of around 78,000 additional disadvantaged NEETs aged 18-24. Looking at the same data from the opposite end of the lens, 26% of NEETs were from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite being only 16% of the population

and that

A disadvantaged young person is about 50% more likely to be NEET in the North East compared to London

This was soon followed by the 2018-19 State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission. The key findings are stark and easily summarised:

  • The better off are nearly 80% more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a working-class background.
  • Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds land a professional job, they earn 17% less than their privileged colleagues.
  • social mobility has remained virtually stagnant since 2014. Four years ago, 59% of those from professional backgrounds were in professional jobs, rising to 60% last year
  • in 2014 only 32% of those from working class backgrounds got professional jobs, rising marginally to 34% last year
  • those from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year than those from professional backgrounds, even if they get a professional job they earn 17% less than more privileged peers
  • by age 6 there is a 14% gap in phonics attainment between children entitled to free school meals and those more advantaged
  • by age 7 the gap has widened to 18% in reading, 20% in writing and 18% in mathematics
  • only 16% of pupils on free school meals attain at least 2 A levels by age 19, compared to 39% of all other pupils
  • twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18 year olds are at further education colleges compared to sixth-forms, and this segregation within the education system has risen by 1.2% since 2013
  • student funding for 16 to 19 year olds has fallen 12% since 2011 to 2012, and is now 8% lower than for secondary schools (11 to 15 year olds), leading to cuts to the curriculum and student support services that harm disadvantaged students
  • graduates who were on free school meals earn 11.5% less than others 5 years after graduating

The accompanying coverage resonated through articles across the media (some examples here and here) and gave enough political leverage for it to be raised at PMQs.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that these two reports and the CEC publication are talking about the very same disadvantaged communities yet through very different lenses. Of course, the CEC is reviewing current trends in provision which may not have an impact on outcomes for pupils for many years while adhering to reporting against it’s key performance indicators. Translating those KPIs when explaining the positive outcomes of their work to audiences without a CEIAG specialism is a huge hurdle for the CEC as they have to:

  1. explain what the Benchmarks are
  2. explain why they are good to achieve
  3. show that they are helping schools and colleges achieve them
  4. then outline the impact on positive outcomes for students in those disadvantaged communities.

I fear this means that achieving positive traction with politicians and the public will be extremely difficult.

Politically tricky waters

The political future of the country is currently in a highly unpredictable place but the CEC must be conscious of the need to persuade future Governments (of any colour ribbon) of their value. Labour’s Education Policy of a National Education Service is outlined in broad strokes without clarity on the need or role of a CEC type organisation. But whichever party is in power to make decisions on funding, they will not make those decisions merely based on research and evidence but research, evidence and outcomes that has been successfully communicated. If the CEC continues to constrain themselves to only communicating the value of the work in line with their key performance indicators then they will soon find themselves outmaneuvered by those able to use other statistics and research to paint a much more negative picture of the current state of CEIAG provision in disadvantaged communities to undermine any positive progress made.

Halfon’s barmy apprenticeship idea

Individual MP’s are perceived differently by members of the public, some work hard to even be noticed, some work hard on their public persona and some just work hard. One MP who I usually place in the last of those categories is the ex Education Minister Robert Halfon. Not being a constituent of his, my perception of his work was mostly formed by seeing his tenacious but effective style on the BBC documentary, Inside the Commons and his work as Minister of State for Skills July 2016 – June 2017. His recent election to the position of Chair of the Education Select Committee shows both his interest to remain at the centre of the education policy process and his ability to get the support of his fellow MPs.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Halfon appeared with his Skills Ministerial successor, Anne Milton, at fringe event entitled, “Lost Learners: Delivering a skills revolution and providing opportunities for all” in which he suggested that

“We should look at things like the pupil premium and whether or not certain parts of it can be based or dependent on how many students they get, especially from deprived backgrounds, to go into high-quality apprenticeships,”

and that this would be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to improving the breadth of  careers advice on offer schools.

Let’s make no bones about it, this is an extremely bad idea. Lots of bad ideas will be floated at fringe conference events of all parties but that this came from the chair of the Education Select Committee is what makes it noteworthy. Previous holders of that post, particularly Graham Stuart MP, who championed and challenged Careers provision in schools while in the role, were much more judicious in their public offerings on Government policy.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

1.

As I’ve covered (it feels exhaustively over the years), there are not apprenticeship vacancies to fulfil the demand from young people.

In 2016/17

over a quarter of a million 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies

And that’s the number of total apprenticeships, if Halfon means by “high quality” those at the higher levels and (usually) pay scales then the opportunities on offer are even further away from fulfilling demand.

apprenticeship vacancies by level

With Higher and Advanced level apprenticeship vacancies totalling 44,930 or 26.5% of the total number of apprenticeship vacancies in 16/17. There were over 1.5 million 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. If the ratio of students to vacancies is so high, then Halfon’s suggestion would lead to schools losing pupil premium money no matter the quality of CEIAG on offer.

2.

Pupil Premium is becoming a core budget stream for schools.

As detailed in this House of Commons library Briefing Paper, Pupil Premium now equals different funding amounts for pupils dependant on their age and personal circumstances. In total though, the funding is worth £2.5bn each academic year to English schools. Surveys report that around a third of heads are having to use their Pupil Premium funds to cover other costs in school, not purely for closing the attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and it is the schools from the most disadvantaged areas most often affected. This would mean that the schools having to work hardest to propel their pupils along Halfon’s own “ladder of opportunity” metaphor would be the most affected by any cut in Pupil Premium funding dependant on employment outcomes. This would make it even harder for future cohorts of those schools to provide provision and so positive outcomes.

3.

The proportion of pupils claiming Free School Meals (and so receiving Pupil Premium funding for their school) is falling.

free-school-meals-graph

Pupils do not automatically receive FSM, they (their parents/guardians) have to apply. Only those who have applied are used to calculate a school’s Pupil Premium funding so it is in the schools interests to encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to apply but not all do. Uptake is also linked to other factors, eligibility for FSM can be dependant on income related benefits which, as the linked article above points out, means that Government changes to benefit eligibility have a knock on effect. Larger scale changes such as Universal Credit can be introduced without their consequences on reliant funding streams being fully determined. These are factors which all influence a school’s pupil premium funding before any CEIAG provision to help a student gain an apprenticeship has even taken place.

Monitoring and reporting on a school’s CEIAG provision and including actual destination data of that school’s students in that monitoring are all sensible levers for policy makers to pull to build up CEIAG focus and provision in schools. Policy makers should use data rather than anecdote to form policy and conclude that to increase the numbers of young people securing apprenticeship vacancies there needs to be more vacancies and young people need funded, dedicated support to have the skills and experience to successfully apply for them. Suggesting that a school’s funding be removed if it’s pupils do not secure rare and highly sought after routes would make the job even harder for the schools who find this most difficult already. It is a baffling proposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apprenticeship PR still doesn’t match the vacancy numbers reality

Every summer, the news cycle shines its brief gaze on the exam results of our nation’s youth and those you wish to promote their specific routes for young people attempt to gain PR traction usually by doing down the other pathways on offer. This summer I found it noticeable the extent articles and headlines blamed poor careers advice specifically in relation for a perceived lack of interest or knowledge in young people about apprenticeships.

A number of articles highlighted the results of an online survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) that reported that 8% of 15-18 year olds were being advised to pursue the apprenticeship route and that 28% had never been spoken to by their school or college about apprenticeships. This was picked up by specialist sites such as FE News and mainstream press such as The Mirror. The quoted response from Alex Meikle, the Director of the ECA, was that “too many young people are effectively being led up the garden path by careers advice in schools, which is significantly out of step with the needs of industry and future employers.”

Elsewhere, Labour MP Frank Field was writing in the TES that A Level students had “been sold a pup” by schools and advisers due to the increasing rates of apprentice pay progression and employment opportunities compared to the weakening graduate labour market. The Managing Director of the NOCN, Graham Hastings-Evans, was also in the TES, claiming that it was “not too late” for students let down by poor careers advice to still apply for vocational and apprenticeship routes. And finally, the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, took the opportunity in The Telegraph to promote the route and the Government’s work on the Skills Plan.

All of this attention is welcome for promoting the full variety of routes on offer to young people but, in their haste to do down careers advice as the reason that large numbers of young people are still following traditional paths the writers are conveniently forgetting a number of facts.

  1.  Large numbers of secondary school pupils would consider taking vocational routes post 16

pupil survey1

2. Significant proportions of young people who want to pursue vocational pathways are battling unsupportive parents (same source)

parents apprenticeships

3. For Level 3 students, the choice of Higher Apprenticeships is miniscule

apprenticeship vacancies by level

Using the above data from the GOV.UK FE Data Library we can see that there have only been 3908 Higher Apprenticeship vacancies advertises in the whole 17/18 year to date, 3810 in 15/16 and 2870 in 14/15. So Apprenticeship provision at this level is growing but compare this to the numbers of students transitioning from Level 3 into traditional Higher Education routes. For the 2017 application cycle, just from England the total of 18 & 19 year olds applying for Higher Education was 319,100.

ucas5

The number of actual live Higher Apprenticeship vacancies in June 2017 when these young people were finishing their education courses or gap years and becoming available to the labour market? 590.

apprenticeship vacancies in june

To suggest that young people should take the apprenticeship route to protect against the waning wage benefit of graduate salaries is blindly ignoring the biggest hurdle facing those young people. There are nowhere near enough apprenticeship opportunities at that level for them to pursue.

4. Young people are registering on “Find an Apprenticeship” and applying for Apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the vacancies available

16-18 year olds are by the far the largest age group to register to be able to apply for Apprenticeship vacancies. 254,250 have registered in the year to date so far well on the way to the 280,200 who signed up in 15/16.

apprenticeship registrations by age1

This age group has, so far this year, gone on to make 939,630 applications.

apprenticeship registrations by age

5. We know that Apprenticeship employers favour hiring older applicants.

In 2015 Ofsted found that, “Under 19s made 56% of applications but only 27% of starts; 25+ made 7% of applications but 37% of starts” and that employers were reluctant to take on younger apprenticeship applicants as:

  • They believed too many 16-year-old school leavers lacked personal
    presentation and communication skills, or gave the impression at interview
    that they were immature and unreliable.
  • They recognised that employing an apprentice required a significant
    investment in time to train them in the generic employability skills and did
    not feel they could afford this.

To recap, over a quarter of a millon 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies. 

Let’s go back to those survey figures from the ECA, using the 2016 Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics national tables data we can see that there were 1,549,000 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. 8% of this figure is 123,920 pupils that self reported that they were being advised to attempt to secure an apprenticeship. The total number of apprenticeships advertised so far this year is 169,298, so, in reality, the pipeline of young people being advised to take this route is proportionate to the number of vacancies on offer.

All of this shows there is already far greater interest in apprenticeships from that age group than there is base line opportunities. The Director of the ECA, and others, need to acknowledge that the challenge for apprenticeship recruitment for young people is not a lack of awareness or knowledge of the route but

  1. A lack of support with the whole application process from on line form to interview
  2. A lack of work experience building opportunities
  3. A lack of social capital to source opportunities

And that is the work that takes time, qualified staff and funded resources all of which are much more difficult to understand, lobby for or support than just taking the easy option of bashing careers advice for not giving out information.