From education to employment

Blow to lifelong learning agenda, but participation rates on the rise

A “significant share of UK students are failing to achieve baseline Level 2 and 3 qualifications, resulting in a participation ranking of 23rd out of 30 countries.

Released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the statistics showed that while participation rates for the UK’s “upper secondary education”, defined as NVQs, A-levels or 5 GCSEs, may have risen, they are still lagging behind countries such as Korea. Incidentally, the data surmises that of the 55-64 year-old group, the UK is ranked as 13th in FE attainment; moving to the 25-34 year-olds, that ranking is pushed back to 23.

This lack of attainment reflects in the “penalties” in entering the labour market: for those who have not completed upper secondary education, employment rates stand at 60% for men and 47% for women. The OECD averages are, respectively, 72% and 49%.

Further, in the 25-64 year old grouping for the UK, 38% of those without upper secondary qualifications earn half or less than the national median of the OECD countries.

Yet the UK is said to be making ground. The document states clearly that, “while the UK still has comparatively low levels of participation among 15-19 year-olds, recent years have seen some progress”.

“In 1998, among OECD countries, only Mexico and Turkey had a lower proportion of their 15-19 year-old population enrolled in education than the UK. However, in 2004, at 79%, the UK had moved close to the OECD average level of enrolment among 15-19-year-olds of 80.5%”.

Also, the UK “stands out” with consistent rises in educational investment, from 4.3% of GDP in 1990, to 6.1% in 2003.

And in recognition of the benefits of apprenticeships, the study reveals that, “in 2004, the UK, at 81%, is only slightly below the OECD average of 82% enrolment among 17 year-olds [Much of this improvement is, however, due to the inclusion in the statistics for the first time of young people taking part in Apprenticeship and Advanced Apprenticeship programmes, which now have a strong formal education component]”.

However, in a blow to the lifelong learning agenda, the data discloses that in the UK, “intensity of participation is particularly low among persons without upper secondary qualifications [103 hours as compared with an OECD average of 210 hours], among older individuals [28 hours among 55-64 year-olds as compared with an OECD average of 39 hours] and among the unemployed [14 hours as compared with an OECD average of 38 hours]”.

And outlining the implications for access to learning, “[it shows] continuing inequalities in terms of access to lifelong learning in the UK, as in other countries”.

“They also suggest that continuing education and training currently do not succeed in making up for skill gaps emerging from initial education but, in first, tend to reinforce disparities that result from initial education”.

And in other news”¦

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has revealed that plans to introduce “citizenship tests” into post-16 learning should be implemented “as soon as possible”.

In a statement released yesterday, the body pointed to research indicating that the teaching of citizenship in schools was improving. However, there was a wide variation in the quality of provision.

Ofsted became responsible for inspecting all 16-19 education during 2001, and inspectors have advised that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) attend to the citizenship courses for post-16’s immediately.

Vijay Pattni.

Next week: The Association of South East Colleges concludes FE News” vocational/academic skills debate

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