Robert Halfon

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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This 2017 Election & CEIAG

The news of the Prime Minister’s decision to hold a snap election on June 8th 2017 will be, by now, news that you’re probably bored of hearing. In fact, the news of another election, a year after the European referendum, two years after the last General Election, three years after the Scottish Independence referendum probably brought out of you a wail of despair much like Brenda here:

Whatever the political maneuvering that caused Theresa May to decide on firing the start gun on the vote that needs to happen as part of the Fixed Term Parliaments act, it’s safe to say that the current poling does not point to anything other than a strong Conservative victory.

That is not to say, of course, that between now and polling day there won’t be swings in fortunes, catastrophic mistakes from key players, TV debate performances that catch the eye and movements in polls that add an extra layer to the narrative but, I think it’s fair to say, most will be putting their money on a resounding Conservative victory.

That result will have consequences on wide tracts of British life from public services, to individual privacy, social mobility to (perhaps the inescapable theme of them all) Brexit.

Education will not (or will depending on who you listen to) get much attention during the campaign and, when it does, the issues to be covered are likely to be overall funding, changes to the National Funding Formula, Grammar Schools and Labour’s free school meals policy. Education currently polls around 4th in voters concerns below Brexit, the NHS, and Immigration so will do well to gain much traction above those major issues.

Which leaves CEIAG where? As others have already noted, this will push long promised Careers policy documents into the even longer grass. A delay on a Strategy document that would have very likely included no funding or any structural changes to the Careers landscape is no great loss. The more narrowly focused current Statutory Duty on schools though will continue until the future Government replaces or abolishes it and, as that future Government is very likely to be formed from the same Party that conceived it, it’s likely it will stay. This could be complicated though by the progress of the Technical & Further Education Bill through Parliament which includes the Baker Amendment. At the time of writing it is still unclear whether this will pass through Parliament in time despite the optimism of Robert Halfon but that would add another facet to the duty on CEIAG provision in schools.

Other than, it’s hard to see what else would change specifically on CEIAG. The current Government have set their spending envelopes for, more widely education, but also the Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. What is much more likely to have an actual tangible effect on CEIAG work in schools post #GE2017 will be the other education policies included in the Conservative manifesto and any post-election reshuffle.

Without any extra funding commitment out of the hat, the main education policy headline grabber will be the promise of new Grammar schools

or the relaxing of rules allowing existing schools to become grammars despite the overwhelming evidence that they are not engines of social mobility. Those CEIAG practitioners who believe in the social worth of Careers work to aid upward mobility should be deeply concerned at not only the damage a Grammar system will do in parts of the country but also the willingness of a Government to completely dispense with evidence to pursue a favoured route. In the coming weeks, perhaps the greatest opportunity for coverage or attention for organisations invested in CEIAG work and the social mobility agenda will be to add their voices to the Education community response to policies that, superficially at least, won’t have anything to do with Careers.

 

The blame game

In a speech earlier this week (note; speech, not the publication of the actual delayed careers strategy) the Skills Minister, Robert Halfon outlined his intentions for CEIAG under his watch.

The venue the Minister decided to use for this speech about careers advice, the parity of vocational routes and the importance of Apprenticeships was Westminster Academy because,

It is worth noting though that the school, while achieving some outstanding Progress 8 scores in it’s 2016 academic results, failed to get any students to progress into Apprenticeships at 16 in 2014 (the most recent destination data available) and the % of pupils staying in education, employment and training was below both the Local Authority and National averages.

westminster-academy-dest

The Minister outlined his vision of an all age Careers offer, said that the long promised careers strategy would come later in 2017 and that CEIAG formed an important part of the recently published Industrial Strategy. He also, as a representative of a Government that has been in power at least in Coalition for 6 years, blamed Headteachers for the poor state of CEIAG provision in schools.

He questioned the variability between organisations, stating: “I do not believe it is just a question of funding, but how a school chooses to spend its funding.

“Schools that deliver high quality careers advice do not do so because they have a greater share of the pot, but because they see it as a vitally important future part for their pupils.”

which is a position which does have an element of truth. Headteachers are budget holders who do have freedom to spend on priorities. What provision can count as a ‘priority’ though needs to be placed within the context of the overall budget envelope.

So here is that context:

The £200m annual funding and wider structure to support careers work in schools was cut and the responsibility without the funding for provision was moved onto schools.

The expected levels of provision that schools should be offering from current budgets would cost around £186m with £181m of that to be found annually. The £90m promised for Careers (mainly the Careers & Enterprise Company) across the 5 years of this parliament, pales in comparison.

Yet current school budgets are under huge pressure. The stories from individual Headteacher’s about crumbling, unfit for purpose buildings and cutting not only support but even teaching staff are tough to read.

Surveys of teachers report that 80% say their school has made cutbacks or is planning to.

These anecdotal reports are bad enough but it is the overall figures that I find staggering.

In December, the National Audit Office concluded that schools will need to find £3bn of savings by 2020 which will equate to an 8% real terms funding cut or a loss of over £400,000 to the average secondary school.

And this will be on top of a period of 6 years of previous cuts during which schools have already been reducing their spending on teaching staff.

nao-figure-4

Budget holders are clear, all that can be cut has been and now staffing is on the chopping block.

If budgets are so squeezed that numbers of teaching staff are being reduced when pupils numbers are not falling then, when the Minister complains that Heads are choosing not to spend their funding on CEIAG provision, he is failing to acknowledge the reality in schools.

It was even telling that, on the same day as a speech including a vision for all age careers support, consultations were published proposing the closure of 78 Jobcentres across the country.

In this climate, the pleas from Unison that any universal careers service is

  • is properly resourced with a stable funding system;

seem from another age entirely.

Taking Headteachers to task for not spending their budgets on CEIAG provision when they are cutting such fundamentals as teaching staff and building maintenance seems a tad delusional.