Clearly, the answer is no, in conformance with Betteridge’s Law. But it’s still an question worth asking.
Build, build, build, promised the prime minister in the summer. But for that, you need builders. Since time immemorial, Latin- and Greek-speaking Etonian prime ministers who can’t follow the science or evidence, clueless about skills, bemoan Britain’s lack of vocational education. At every spending review they talk up the need for skills – but contribute token sums to achieve them. It happened again this week: yes, a bit more money, but not much, as further education colleges remain threadbare.
Meanwhile, here comes a great crescendo of unemployment, surging to 2.6 million people when furloughing ends. People are tumbling out of all manner of jobs, high and low, from industries not likely to rehire soon. They need retraining fast. But that’s not on offer.
Hmm, well, further education colleges aren’t quite where you might go to gain a new and interestingly job relevant technical skill. That was the job, as was, of technical colleges and at a slightly higher academic level, polytechnics.
A system that worked. We had universities which did academe. Then polys and techs which did selected levels of more obviously career or even job orientated training. Below that, possibly above it if we think of the value of a good plumber, we had and have City and Guilds and the like, much more like apprenticeships than anything else although not so tied to the one Master.
FE colleges have been flooded with applicants, as 16-year-olds escape the empty jobs market, but the extra FE funding doesn’t replace the cuts of the recent years. Total spending on adult skills dropped by 45% between 2010 and 2018, says the rightwing thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies. Believe no political homilies on “parity of esteem” for vocational education, until FE gets the same level of funding as universities. Why do 16-19s get less than under-16 school students, despite the higher cost of specialist staff and materials for engineering, construction, hairdressing and myriad practical courses? The collapse of apprenticeships means colleges have been stripped of funds from those day-release courses. Despite the government promising 50,000 new nurses, FE colleges have been barred from offering nursing courses, their degree-awarding rights abolished out of sheer snobbery.
Well, no actually, What happened was that people like Polly Toynbee insisted that all those polys and techs – which did that training of the job related stuff – must be upgraded to universities so all could graduate in grievance studies. At which point we’ve a plethora of people who can spot institutional racism a mile off and no one at all indigenously trained who can unblock a drain. We import those from Wroclaw.
This current skills training system is the very one that Polly has campaigned for for decades. Now she complains, eh? The logical consistency is such an advertisement for feminism….