There’s been a lot of reports about the pressure on young people going through our current education system. But what about when they leave school. Has all the pressure at school been worth it? Grandaughter 1 will be 16 in December and doing her GCSEs next June and she’s hoping to stay on at school. But what would her options be if she decides to leave school at 16? Let’s face it, staying on at school does not suit all 16 year olds, many of whom want to feel more independent and might flourish better in a different setting. And if she does stay on, what would be available for her when she leaves school at 18?
From this month onwards, all 16-year-olds have to be in full-time education, in part-time education/training while working (or volunteering) or have an apprentice- or traineeship. So what if granddaughter 1, aged 16, wants to continue in full-time education but leave school and study elsewhere, or her school didn’t have a sixth form like a lot of secondaries? Well, she could go to a sixth form college – these focus on pre-university exams such as A levels and resits of GCSEs – so all well and good.
But, like a lot of things in the last few years, they’ve had their funding cut, some by as much as a third and others by up to a half which has led them to reduce both academic subjects and vocational courses. Why has this happened? It appears that the current impetus in secondary education is towards extending the academy programme and schools are being encouraged to open more traditional sixth forms. But I’ve read that historically school sixth forms have offered a narrower selection of subjects than sixth form colleges which have actually sent a higher number of students to university. So why reduce their funding?
But hold on a moment, aren’t further education colleges another option for those leaving school at 16 although they tend to cater more for students aged 18 and over? As well as A levels, they offer vocational courses and qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs. But, here we go again, FE funding has been cut too and in 2015 will be reduced by a further 24%. Obviously, colleges are being forced to increase class sizes and reduce the number of courses.and apparently employers are worried that they won’t be able to find people with the vocational skills they need, suh as in social care or IT, for example.
I’ve read that in the past more young people have gone to FE colleges than to universities yet FE gets a fraction of the funding. So what’s the logic behind the cuts? One of the reasons might be, as one commentator suggested, that very few polititicans in the current government or civil servants and head of corporations went to FE colleges and they just don’t understand what they are for. And let’s face it, universities have more power than FE and sixth form colleges and are much more able to lobby government. Unis are now being allowed to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees and a lot of them are so students are being saddled with huge debts. And those from poorer backgrounds have the double whammy of the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) being changed into a loan from 2016, creating even more debt for them – not a great incentive to go to university. Unsurprisingly, reports have come out saying that more students are choosing to go to an FE college over a university – but with the cuts how’s all this going to pan out?
But what if granddaughter 1 leaves school and looks for a job? Let’s remember first of all that the new higher level of the minimum wage will not kick in until she gets to 25. But anyway, a young school leaver doesn’t have much chance of a job if they don’t have any training and almost all are not eligible for benefits. But, hurrah, there’s a catchily named government scheme called Training for Success – sounds good, doesn’t it? And places on this scheme are guaranteed and can last for up to two years, ie when a young person gets to 18. As you can imagine the take-up is relatively high – over 80%. Training for Success is being sold to young people as helping them to ‘progress to your chosen career’ but if they refuse an offer of any job at the end of their course (and jobs these days can be with unsocial hours, be part time or precarious) or an apprenticeship, they can’t apply for benefits – so much for actually choosing a career then. And guess who are providing many of the courses on this scheme? FE colleges. Not too much joined up thinking here, eh?
And, lastly, if granddaughter 1 leaves school at 18 but doesn’t go to uni, what then? Well, in the summer budget, a Youth Obligation policy was outlined for young people aged 18. This said that it’s not on for young people aged 18 to 21 to leave school and go directly into a life on benefits and the idea is that they should either ‘earn or learn’. OK, but as you can see from the above, it’s all very well inventing a catchy soundbite but what about putting in place the systems and funding to make earning or learning actually happen? What is also being pushed here is the expansion of the apprenticeship programme and despite a lack of uptake by teenagers.
So for granddaughter 1 and her mates, the pressure they’ve had to put up with while at school doesn’t seem to end on leaving, does it? I really don’t understand the logic of any of this – surely we should be investing in the future of our children, our grandchildren – investing in a coherent supportive system for those leaving school. And, I’m thinking, teenagers like granddaughter 1 do not unquestioningly accept the status quo, they’re looking around them, trying to make sense of what’s going on. And they’ll remember and take note of all of this and they’ll vote and act accordingly – and maybe for those young people following them, like granddaughters 2 and 3 and grandson, things will change. They certainly have to – when all’s said and done, young people are the future.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.