Pupil Premium

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When a report about a report might be a good thing

If there’s one thing the world of school CEIAG doesn’t need, it’s another report into the failures of school CEIAG. So when “Year 11 student’s views of Career Education and Work Experience” from Kings College London turned up in the week, I was a little nonplussed. Though, on further examination and when follow up news later came, it seemed to me that this report might warrant greater attention.

Firstly, this is no small scale survey with little in the way of statistical controls and a PR axe to grind that sometimes grab the headlines. These are the findings of the Aspires 2 longitudinal 5 year study which includes results culled from views of over 13,000 Year 11s. Subsequently, there are lots of interesting nuggets in the document on young people’s views and experiences of CEIAG

kings college report 1

but it’s the findings on the discrepancy in careers support for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to the average that might have the greatest impact.

Social Class: Students from less advantaged social backgrounds (with lower levels of cultural capital) Findings receive significantly less careers education and report being less satisfied – students from the most advantaged backgrounds are significantly more likely to receive careers education. For instance, a student with very high cultural capital is 1.49 times more like to receive careers education compared to a student with very low cultural capital.

(Btw – All careers practitioners should take a look at the conclusions of the report even if just to recentre and remind ourselves to ensure that students from across the background spectrum should be included in our work.)

Ultimately though, the findings wouldn’t shock too many of us careers folk working with young people. When you close a large scale State intervention (Connexions) and leave the market to plan the unfunded provision left it turns out that it’s the easier wins that get won. Huh, who knew.

The follow up to this report came swiftly with the news that the Education Endowment Foundation will look into, “the current state of careers education and identify the most effective ways to provide this service.” The work will be carried out by Dr Deidre Hughes and Dr Anthony Mann of the Education & Employers Taskforce. Now, usually at this point my “policy wonk” patience limit would have been reached as, rather than actually enact some change, all we had was news of another report. Yet, it’s the possibilities of this forthcoming work which hold some hope.

Government departments, just like schools, in tight financial times, want to know what works and what bang for your buck you’re going to get from each intervention. CEIAG work has a growing evidence base to show worth across it’s different forms be that employer engagement or career guidance but what this work actually looks like in schools is less clear. Frameworks try to define this and guidance can include best practice case studies but this still can leave school leaders unclear about what this work looks like in their institutions. Compare those to publications such as the EEF’s Teaching & Learning  toolkit which clearly sets out costs, evidence strength and impact to learners for each type of provision. School leaders welcome this sort of clarity, “More than half of secondary school leaders now say they use the Toolkit.” Imagine a similar tool for CEIAG interventions showing just how much worth a careers fair vs an employer visit vs a mentoring scheme vs face to face guidance vs an enterprise day has. Maybe it would make schools focus on what really works in CEIAG. Perhaps it would force practitioners, including myself, to reflect on our own practice and alter our own programmes to focus on interventions with the most impact not just to do what we’ve always done because “it fits.” It could even help position careers work to be seen by schools leaders not as an add on, but as an intervention they can deploy to help disadvantaged learners just like any other they currently do. Presented and communicated well to school leaders, this forthcoming report could be a real positive for careers work in schools.

 

 

Young people, CEIAG and the 2015 Election

As we continue to steam roll into 2015 I wanted to take a look at how CEIAG might play a part in, what will no doubt be, one of the biggest events of the year; the General Election. #GE2015. Indecision 2015. However it will come to be termed, current polling suggests the 2015 election promises to be a muddle of epic proportions as the first past the post system grinds to a halt of probable coalition in the face of general voter distrust of elected members and entrenched division between areas of the country.

CEIAG as an area of state provision covers multiple policy issues that politicians hope people consider when deciding their vote. Education and employability skills, job availability and opportunities for promotion, the wider economy and social mobility would be all areas of policy advocates would say CEIAG would impact positively. To what extent careers education and guidance is in voter’s minds when they are expressing satisfaction or concern about any of those issues is open to debate (none to minimal, I would guess) but, if I take for granted that I’m preaching to the converted on the importance of CEIAG, I thought it would be interesting to see where it might align with voter’s concerns and how this is influencing politicians.

Of course, the school age client group where most of the recent focus on the lack of careers provision has come are too young to vote. Even with Labour’s promise to lower the voting age to 16, 2015 is a battle that will shape their future but in which they will have no say. Even so, all parties know that Education is an important policy area for parents and so have obfuscated their funding plans for this area behind terms (Tory: “the cash sum that follows your child into the school will not be cut” Labour: “The next Labour government will protect the overall education budget“) that they hope will woo votes but in reality both these Conservative and Labour pledges equate to a cut in funding. When reports are clearly stating that improving CEIAG will need increased funding, this isn’t a good start.

We do know that parents are increasingly keen for their children to stay in education Post 16 (fig 4.4)

parents post 16 intentions

 

so policies that improve the chances of making successful transitions at 16 would be welcomed by those with voting power.

Overall though, it appears that the parents surveyed there do have different priorities to younger generations. The “grey vote” is focussed on

The current NHS crisis appears to be a key concern for older people as 86% said that politicians should be focussing on health and social care. 79% of over-55s highlighted tackling terrorism, compared to 69% who want political leaders to focus on the economy. Concerns surrounding pensions and savings were highlighted by 51% of those surveyed.

It’s very different for younger people

 

The high priority those in the 18-25 age bracket place on issues such as living costs, unemployment, the gap between the rich and poor and tuition fees shows that the transition from education to employment and those tricky first steps into the labour market play heavy on their mind. To those struggling to make headway in a post 2008 jobs market, the media’s political obsessions of the EU and immigration must seem like concerns from a different world.

As this age group are the recent and soon to be leavers from full-time and higher education they should be, in theory, those most able to access a structured CEIAG offer. Support that addresses their concerns, you would imagine, would be welcomed by this cohort.

That does not automatically mean though that politicians will be writing their manifestos with these concerns at the top of their promise list. Young people are notoriously reticent to actually vote compared to older demographics who do so in far greater numbers.

chart

 

It’s estimated that around 3 million youth votes are either undecided or up for grabs this time around and polling from that age group shows a significant shift in the parties they would vote for.

But even if all of these potential younger voters did tick a box in May, as the linked Telegraph article above notes,

According to the ONS, there are 5.9 million people aged between 18 and 24. But there are 11.1 million people aged 65 and over.

Yes, old people are more likely to vote. But there are also lots more of them. And since democracy often comes down to a numbers game, it will take more than increased turnout among the young to end the political dominance of the old. Sorry, kids.

so it might not be enough to force their concerns to suddenly be addressed with any greater urgency.

Which all clearly explains why policies such as triple lock pensions, pensioner bonds and universal pensioner benefits such as the Winter Fuel Allowance are political no go areas when cuts are being discussed by the Conservatives. It’s frankly staggering then that the YouGov/Anchor Trust polling quoted above also shows that only 13% of grey voters think politicians represent their views.

The two parties that the younger demographics are putting their support behind have so far made, what would be called at best, tentative proposals for policies under the CEIAG umbrella. Labour has indicated that it would reintroduce mandatory key stage 4 work experience and Tristram Hunt has included his wish to improve careers advice in speeches. The education policies of the Green Party meanwhile include no mention of careers advice and the transition from education to work is only covered with more general ideals such as the need for clear vocational routes at 14 and their desire for much greater life long learning opportunities.

The incumbent parties meanwhile have their own projects in this policy area. The Conservatives plan to expand the Apprenticeship program but will cut both wider and targeted benefits for 18-21 year olds to fund it. Considering how the numbers of current Apprenticeships have skewed towards older workers, the net £ loss to this age group would probably be larger than the initial reading of the headline suggests. Tories would also point to the new Careers company that will be up and running in spring 2015 as evidence of their plans for CEIAG over the next parliament. For the Lib Dems, the ongoing funding of £2.5 billion for the pupil premium will take centre stage of their offer for education.

With the meat on the bones of the party manifestos still to come, all of this leaves CEIAG in a forlorn place. As a policy area, it offers possible links and solutions to issues that mostly concern voters who don’t vote and, even if they did, it’s likely that any intergenerational battle for political supremacy would be won by the sheer number of older folk. You might conclude then that any interested parties who believed that any substantial investment in CEIAG could be a solution to the issues young people see as facing them, have a huge job of persuasion on their hands: to convince older voters to not just vote on their own concerns.