Tag Archives: Education

Young people need a positive message

Since leaving sixth form, battling with UCAS and the Student Loans Company myself, it has evidently become more difficult to be given a place at university. At the same time, young people are being pressured into becoming more educated than ever before.

Government attainment targets such as league tables encourage schools and colleges to push students into applying for university. With cuts to university places, combined with increasing youth unemployment figures, the future for young people in this country is looking gloomy.

Media reports of “The lost generation: Unemployed, broke and disillusioned” merely worsen our situation. Positive sourcing of work such as social enterprise, skill development and entrepreneurship are all attainable attributes for new graduates to consider in these tough economic times.

Unpaid internships are at the forefront of hierarchical, class-based gaining of experience – with those in London, along with people who are given the means of borrowing money having a distinct advantage. Campaigns surrounding the inequality of unpaid internships such as Interns Anonymous and All Skilled Up, All Dolled Up are fighting for fairer internships.

What we need is a positive, inclusive message for young people and graduates. Being bombarded with defeatist  rhetoric on a constant basis is dragging down our spirit. We went to university to learn more, to be more employable and to have a good time in the process. University has not prepared many of us for what we have found once we get off at the other end; mortarboard dislodged and certificate clasped in the queue at the Post Office.

Overqualified and out of work – the story of the education policy victims

To be newly graduated.

Today’s message to the class of 2010 has hit a raw nerve. We are taught to do the best for ourselves: schools, colleges and sixth forms condition many of us into the ideal of university as being a foundation for getting the most out of a career.

Just weeks before I symbolically throw my mortarboard into the air for good luck, I fear that it will be more than luck that some of the 420,000  graduating students will need. With an average of 69 people applying for each graduate job and in the face of accumulating interest payments and mass youth unemployment, higher education policy must be addressed.

The last government’s gung-ho approach to getting half of young people into higher education is constantly criticised for devaluing education. More worryingly, the recession-lead cut on jobs, followed by the new coalition government cutting of public sector workers and Future Jobs Fund will result in thousands more people signing up for Jobseekers’ Allowance this summer.

Creating jobs, not cutting them should be a top priority for any government committed to tackling the current problems faced in our society. The Tory ‘big society’ policy cannot work autonomously from the job market; furthermore, the big society should function as more than a social capital boost for those who can afford to run a public service, along with doing paid and other domestic work. Opening doors and giving opportunities to those who cannot find work could lead to a more positive impact, such as crime prevention and redressing the growing ‘dependency culture’. In turn, the third sector needs to be protected from austerity cuts to remain effective.

The next months and years will prove to be interesting for any new graduate (and those of the years before). In some respects, I must agree with the coalition reduction in the numbers of university places. It will reduce the number of unemployed graduates in years to come – leaving 10,000 people without a bachelors degree is a small price to pay compared to the individual debts that we suffer from now, with thanks to top-up fees and the new Labour higher education mess.

Are FE grants coming for the cut?

The Education Maintenance Allowance. Brought to us by the Labour government in 2004. In short, it is a benefit paid to young people in further education, whose  parents earn less than £30,000 a year. As well as an incentive to get people from poorer backgrounds into further education, it is also an important and dependent upon source of income for young people. But you knew that already.

Whilst at sixth form, I received the full £30 a week when I attended all of my classes. And it worked. It paid for my bus pass, meals, and required materials and trips.

Realistically, as with student grants, it is seen as an unfair payment. Some argue that no matter how much a student’s family earns, they still may go without financial help.

Since Labour was the only party to promise the safeguard of the EMA, it is unclear whether it will be removed as a “waste” in the structural deficit repayment cuts. According to Left Foot Forward earlier this year, David Cameron commented:

We’ve looked at Educational Maintenance Allowances and we haven’t announced any plan to get rid of them.

There is a campaign to raise the profile of the EMA and to gain support and awareness of their necessity in keeping students in further education. There are now over 4,000 members of Facebook and Twitter.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, commented on Labour List that:

NUS surveyed over 1,600 students in further education aged between 16 and 19. We found that 55% of those in receipt of the EMA would not have been able to continue in further education without it. It has made, and continues to make, a significant impact on students’ ability to meet the rising costs associated with their studies.

But our polls also shows plenty of room for improvement. 4 out of 10 students from poorer backgrounds told us that they still struggle to meet maintenance costs, in spite of receiving the EMA.

Testing children in the name of competition

One of the first articles I wrote on Plurality was about scrapping SAT tests for year six children.

Today is has been revealed in the media that some children in England will not be sitting these school competition-based exams.

Half of the 17,000 primary schools across the country are boycotting the tests, with backing from the National Union of Teachers.

Current Education Secretary, Ed Balls has informed schools:

that it was teachers’ statutory duty and professional responsibility to carry out the tests had backfired and spurred more teachers to join the boycott.

Under the Conservative government (which is likely to be installed any time now), SATs would not be scrapped. They are a performance related test: mapping the outcome of schools rather than individual pupils.

Having memories of taking the tests myself, I would be relieved if the tests were scrapped all together. They impede on future exams and reduce the amount of choice at GCSE level. Perhaps more importantly, they cause a great amount of stress for children.

Of course, I am all for tracking individual progress through school. But it would be a great shame to carry on using stressful testing techniques as indicators of how a school is performing.

This is soapbox Britain speaking…

Is everything that we think we believe, what we really believe?

When I first began my political career – that is, at the beginning of sixth form, I was directed to take the Political Compass test before starting A-level politics. Before college, I had a warped, mid central-right outlook on the world. But after taking this test, I was mapped liberal-mid left range. Now I take this test every few months to see how current affairs is affecting my political standing. Below I have posted the results from my test, taken today.



In a previous article I wrote about young people and first time voters being turned off of politics – for reasons such as a lack of understanding about parties and the ‘left-right’ spectrum.

Asking simple questions about social and economic reasons, the Political Compass makes it a lot easier for people to understand which party they might like to look into, or vote for.

Today, I noticed a website being talked about on Twitter called Vote for Policies. The website asks a series of questions on different topics, such as health, education and democracy. By picking a manifesto promise on each topic, participants are told which party they have selected their favourite pledges from. I was 3/2 – labour/green.

For many people, picking up a newspaper or watching the news is the way in which they come to understand and see politics. Unfortunately, a lot of the news reporting on politics has lead, especially in the past year, to be very sceptical about Westminster.

If more people took part in these sorts of tests, for instance in school, they may be more inclined to find out about political parties and what is happening during the election campaigns of 2010.

Everybody has an opinion on how the country should be run; but why are they not speaking out and debating with the rest of us? Douglas Alexander MP has described this as a “word-of-mouth” election – I am supposing that this means virtual as well as literal. But it is seemingly the case. With the fails from camp Conservative (posters), and the embarrassing way in which the government is trying to intervene with the union strike at British Airways, parties need a new way of connecting with the electorate.

Let us make a pledge today. This seems to be a common catch-phrase from politicos at the moment. Let’s make a pledge, here,  today, to get the nation talking about politics. Not just the journalists and broadcasters – all of us. We all have our own voice – let us be heard!


Taking from the many to give to the few – new schools and the not so new Conservatives

March, 1946: Clement Attlee PM and Ellen Wilkinson (Minister of Education) announce free milk to all school children and free school dinners for all grant aided schools. Fast forward to early 1970s: Margaret Thatcher, Minister of Education cuts free milk tokens.

Fast forward again to 2010.

We now have free child daycare centres, under the name of Sure Start. We also have the genius of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), giving less well off people the opportunity to go to college or sixth form. These are important, successful tools given to us by the Labour government, over the past 12 years. I refer to them as tools, because they are useful ways of helping people to get out from under the poverty line.

Now, the Conservative Party shadow Education minister, Michael Gove MP, is looking to hinder the whole ethos of equality in education.

In their party manifesto, the tories are proposing to build 5000 “new schools” (according to The Times). For a party who are talking about making spending cuts to public services, we must ask ourselves where Mr. Gove plans on getting the money from to set up so many new schools? Unashamedly, he admitted that money would have to be taken from other schools to fund these plans.

Let me backtrack a little. New schools are not publicly run schools: the responsibilities such as the curriculum and admissions are left to parents, charities or businesses. But they are funded by the state. So assuming that a school is being run by a collection of parents – they will have the ultimate say in who is allowed to attend such schools. New schools do exist now, but are independent from the state. They are very selective and totally “middle class”. In their very nature, it is hard to imagine a school being run by somebody who doesn’t have a lot of money. People who don’t have much money have to work to get by. So here, ladies and gentlemen, is a very obvious middle class policy, aimed at middle class people.

Recently we have heard of children not getting their first choice places at school. Who created this element of “choice” in education? The tories – who else? Who is this policy good for? The middle class – who else? It is only people with a certain level of wealth or social capital that can trick the admissions catchment area system, by moving closer to the school of their choice, or even using fake addresses to appear to live nearer. The element of choice in education is very unfair on most people, and can result in the wrong people going to the wrong school. What is wrong with going to the school that is closest to where you live, seriously?

I find the new schools policy as nasty as the nasty party. The idea of removing funding from schools that already are struggling to give to a middle class  few, so that they can set up their own schools for middle class children, and teach middle class ideals is beyond me.

Lets say no. Game On!