Reading Peter Wilby’s recent article in the Guardian (Britain’s qualification spiral is beginning to unravel - ) made me reflect upon the fact that there has been a drift over the last forty years towards making entry to the professions more dependent upon achieving higher and higher levels of qualification and grades. This trend has meant that the best jobs are often concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest.

There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of successful bright grammar school children who have come from a working class background but have been able to enter the higher professions (the Andrew Neil/Cherie Booth route) and comprehensive education has failed to provide a similar ladder for academically gifted poor kids.

The professions have become increasingly dominated by people from a relatively narrow range of backgrounds.  Politics is a good example.  34% of MPs have come from a fee paying school background compared to a national average of around 7%. As a recent Smith Institute report on the composition of the 2010 intake of MPs states:

“Parliament today better reflects the gender balance and is more ethnically diverse, but in terms of educational and vocational background the new political elite look remarkably like the old establishment. It is surprising how many of our MPs were privately educated, went to Oxbridge and worked in the professions, particularly Conservatives and Lib Dems. It seems that our Parliament is becoming less representative in terms of education and occupation, and continues to attract similar types of people from a rather narrow professional base”.

There is a form of closed shop that is operated by the professions that actively restricts the range of people who can enter them. You have to eat dinners at an Inns of Court to become a barrister, and you have to be able to base yourself in London and be paid next to nothing while you do your pupillage. Even to become a solicitor requires doing the Legal Practice Course prior to (hopefully) getting a junior post with a firm (which means financing an extra year with no income and paying fees on top of University tuition).

It is very difficult to work in the national media or publishing sectors unless you can afford to be based in London and to start your career by working for free or for a wage that is insufficient to live on (in the Capital) – although the recent BBC move to Manchester may change this. This restricts access to these professions. Once again, they tend to be rather dominated by white, upper middle class people as a result.

These barriers to entry to the professions have grown over my working life, at the same time that other closed shops (in the print industry for example) were - rightly - swept away.

At the same time that the professions have become ever more inaccessible to children who don’t go to a fee paying school, the range of occupations that are open to poorer kids has been diminished in status and pay.

Although the creation of a new route to the professions for employed apprentices, as described in Peter Wilby’s Guardian article, is to be welcomed in theory, in practice entry to it could be restricted to the richest and best educated young people.

When I attended a recent ‘Voice of the Apprentice’ event in November hosted by unionlearn, I came across an Apprentice undertaking the Rolls Royce Higher Apprenticeship route who was already a graduate but had decided to undertake this Apprenticeship as a post-graduate option. This illustrates that, despite good intentions, sometimes the best Apprenticeships may be taken up by people who have already had a university education, thereby limiting the range of opportunities available to young people with lower educational attainment levels.

I remain to be convinced that the new access to the professions via apprenticeships won’t follow a similar pattern and will require pre existing degrees (or A* A levels at least) before prospective candidates will be accepted. This will continue to restrict entry to the offspring of the wealthiest kids.

I think that the growth of credentialism is a real phenomenon. I think that the underlying problem that fuels the growth in credentialism is that there is a shortage of employment in the economy.  Once you have a permanent underclass and surplus labour army of the unemployed, all employment becomes such a valuable commodity that many people are prepared to pay to get it, via loans, internships etc. I don’t think the growth of Apprenticeship routes will address this fundamental lack of paid employment in our economy and truly open our professions to applicants from a wider range of backgrounds.  I hope that I’m proved wrong.

Ian Bond is project officer for Apprenticeships at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Neil Richardson commented on Let’s stop being so quick to axe funding when colleges falter 10 hours 9 minutes ago

Since the call here seems to include Mind the Quality,
in which ways should quality be defined and...

Abertay has published a new article: How do I qualify as a First Aid Trainer? 22 hours 19 minutes ago
FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 22 hours 24 minutes ago

The latest podcasts from FE News for 10/16/2021 -
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page