From education to employment

A Late Delivery of the Week that Was from FE News!

If the Royal Mail gets to deliver late, writes Jethro Marsh for FE News, then I think that Further Education can probably understand the occasional hold ““ up.

Of course, the rest of FE is as swift as a speeding cheetah. This is especially noteworthy from the point of view of the news gatherers, who if we are to believe the sheer volume of media studies courses are actually coming to be classed as a new sub section of evolution. It would seem certain that we are all aware of the “hunter gatherers” theory, and that human actions are guided by this deep seated instinctive genetics-gone-horribly-wrong hang up. Well, now it would seem there is the “scavenger gatherer” as well.

The Scavenger Gatherer

This strange and elusive beast probably reared its head in the first instance when humans began to congregate in one place beyond the carving of a mastodon into manageable fur ““ pocket sized strips. One can imagine how popular they were; a stringy and generally smaller muscled homo sapien hanging around at the edges of the crowd tapping away with that scrape-on-stone sound that is just so popular. If you can imagine for a moment how irritating the sound of fingernails on a blackboard is, and then remove the filtering sound of a lack of attention and the ambient noise of pre ““ pubescent toilet jokes, flirting and bullying, you might have a better picture of the Neolithic dilemma.

Every once in a while the larger and stronger would take pity and would actually throw a scrap of meat to the loitering crowd of stone spectacle wearers. Alternatively, they could well have wheeled about and clubbed them to death for using a pretentiously elongated form of grunting. The truth is that they rarely brought down the healthy beast themselves, as this was a job for the stronger faster and fitter members of society. Hence, arable farming was probably a blessing for them. After all, just how fast does corn run? And I have yet to encounter the specific mutation of barley that causes fists to fly”¦outside the alcoholic sphere, at any rate.

Over time, they would have begun to follow their own course ““ purely due to the pressures of the size of their population they could no longer have followed the Scarlett O”Hara school of maintenance (“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”). Thus, they began to track the trailers of the herds, stalking them with their underdeveloped fangs protruding over weak chins. Perhaps a Wildlife on One programme will be made following their progress through the public sector waiting to find out which of the wildebeest is the weakest and lamest.

Staggering Along?

Now let us turn our attention eighteen wheeler towards a new road, with the trailer full of scavengers in tow. Which of the various public sectors that our tattered remnants of a welfare state struggles under the weight of will take first place on the hunting list of the “scave ““ medias”? Which will sample the dubious delights of being judged as the lamest llama, the horse most hobbled, the wounded wildebeest, the zebra with the zimmerframe?

According to the newest head honcho of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Mr. Richard Lambert, the education and skills sector could give any of the other competitors a lack of a run for its money. He describes the educational standards as “woefully short of world class” and is set to tell the Government that business is crying out for a fully skilled, or even basically skilled workforce. He argues that the basic skills gap that is so heavily targeted in Government funding is yet to be effectively closed. So”¦essentially, there is a skills gap, and he believes that it needs bricking in or concreting rather than a short spurt with the glue gun. Is this news, however?

Not the Summer of Love”¦

The answer, as I hear you gasp in awe and shock at the mere notion of repetition, is no. After all, the CBI report on FE that was released two weeks ago (oddly, about the same time as the National Employer Skills Survey [NESS] from the Learning and Skills Council [LSC]”¦what a coincidence”¦) was hardly singing the praises of the sector. It cited examples from its membership survey that claimed to find the FE sector unresponsive, the LSC unhelpful and the prognosis for future development and innovation limited to say the least. It also called for the removal of protection on funding, and the involvement of the private sector in competition for all contract competitive tendering.

Education is quite possibly not in as brilliant a state as the Government surveys indicate; but also it may well not be as poorly and sickly as the CBI would have us believe. A survey can be taken to mean any number of things, and to attempt to refer to a famous sentiment: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” It might be possible to get two completely different contradictory results from a survey by asking the same group of people two completely different sets of leading questions.

It is also no surprise that the timing of this expression of doubt in education quality comes at the end of the exam season in Britain. Every summer, we have the same parade; we have the Government praising the standards rising to yet higher rates of success, and we have the employers and industry complaining that the only way more students are clearing the bar is through it inching closer to the floor. So, to start with, education and skills as a sector does have a limp, and whilst the vultures are not circling, they are certainly awake.

Finally, let’s try something different. Until the beginning of September, let us try having all those involved in Education begin any statement on exam and education quality with praise for the hard work of the students and teachers. After all, every swipe that is taken at their achievement is a swipe at the desire for the next generation to care about education at all. Similarly, every time the bar does move, people feel a diminished sense of pride in their achievement.

Is that a deal?

Jethro Marsh

Swing for the fences with From the FE Trenches!

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