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October 2022. Article for Post-16 Educator 109

A difficult summer for 18-year olds

It’s been a difficult summer for thousands of 18-yearolds completing their post-16 education in either
school sixth-forms or colleges. Arguably, this cohort has had to endure more stress and uncertainty than
the previous ‘Covid generation’ – when exams were cancelled and work was teacher-assessed

July 2022. Articles for Post-16 Educator 108

T-levels: too big to fail?

The Government continues to roll out its programme of T-levels, the new technical
qualifications in England, originating from a review commissioned by David Cameron and
then a White Paper published by Teresa May.

The first 3 T Levels were launched in September 2020, in digital, construction and childcare.
A further 7 began in September 2021 (2 more digital routes, 2 more in construction and 3 in
health and science). In September of this year, another 6 will be launched, with the
remaining 7 in 2023 (plans have just been announced to introduce a 24th T in marketing for
2025). Meanwhile the Department for Education has published a list of around 450
institutions that have committed to delivering them.

A new technical elite?

Does the emergence of new advanced and higher-level qualifications constitute a break from
traditional conceptions of vocational education – which since its emergence in the 1980s, has been
associated with both educational failure and providing pathways to low-skilled, low-paid work? In
an extremely detailed and interesting analysis, Bill Esmond and Liz Atkins give a tentative yes.
Qualifications like T-levels (and we might add, the proposals in the 2021 Further Education White
Paper for new Higher Level technical certificates as alternatives to university), correspond with the
emergence of a ‘new technical elite’. As the title suggests, vocational education is now also
becoming polarised. This is not just unique to the UK, but is reflected in international responses,
despite significant differences in the way provision is organised.

April 2022. Article for Post-16 Educator 107

Curriculum alternatives

While reformers (including many Tories) continue to emphasise education’s potential in challenging
inequalities through expanding opportunities for those socially disadvantaged, radical practitioners
go further and argue an alternative curriculum is necessary. Here they have been joined by left-wing
academics, who, influenced by the writings of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and, in this country, by the
work of Raymond Williams, have theorised education as a site of ideological or ‘hegemonic’ struggle,
where there is potential to challenge, but also provide alternatives

January 2022. Article for Post-16 Educator 106

BTEC’s future is still in the balance.

Widespread opposition to Government plans to defund BTEC qualifications, ostensibly to make way for the new T-levels led to the forming of a  multi-organisational ProtectStudentChoice alliance, its representation stretching from teacher unions to the Association of Colleges. With the Skills and Post 16 Education Bill  scheduled to pass through Parliament,  118 cross party MPs and  peers supporting the campaign signed a letter to new Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi…………..

January 2022 book chapter Socialist Education Association, Curriculum & Assessment

Skills Without Jobs?  The Further Education White Paper and beyond (with Patrick Ainley)

For the last decade and more the policy consensus has been on ‘rebuilding a vocational route to employment’. Tory politicians in particular have insisted that, rather than more graduates, there should be greater emphasis on ‘intermediate’ technical and vocational qualifications. Remember Lord (Kenneth) Baker’s crusade to promote the disastrous University Technical Colleges (UTCs) for the 14-19 age group. Then the Sainsbury Review of post-16 qualifications which led to new T (Technical) levels. More recently still, the Augar Report on post-18 provision argued that more sub-degree level vocational courses were needed in Higher Education. And so it is with the latest, long awaited, but underwhelming White Paper on Further Education, Skills for Jobs…………  

January 2022 book chapter Encyclopedia of Marxism and Education (Brill publications)

Education without jobs.

This chapter examines the relationship between education and employment, with specific reference to developments in the UK.  In contrast to ‘human capital theory’ — the claim that the expansion of education leads to increased economic prosperity and greater productivity, it argues that large numbers of jobs in the 21st century now only require low level skill and that as a result of the continued expansion of the education system, many young people are now increasingly ‘overqualified and under employed’.

It dismisses arguments about the transition to a post-Fordist or ‘knowledge’ economy and the opportunities this would provide for a new progressive agenda within education. It documents how ‘vocational’ alternatives to traditional academic qualifications and the reinvention of apprenticeships have failed to provide employment opportunities or to reduce the numbers of young people considering university attendance their only serious option.

In contrast to the arguments of Marxist ‘correspondence’ theory that education in capitalist societies closely reproduces the social relationships of production, the chapter argues that while education certainly reinforces social inequalities, its relationship to the labour market is far more contradictory and much less secure. Failing to provide adequate employment opportunities, education can never enjoy permanent legitimacy…….