Friday, 25 December 2015

The Wolf Report

This post looks at the Wolf report into vocational education. It's a recent key report into VE, and I should probably have been more aware of its contents than I was. Its content and recommendations aren't probably of specific relevance to my current work, but it's important to have an understanding of the context of the politics surrounding FE. The report stresses the relevance and employers' understanding of long-standing vocational qualifications at level 3, such as the BTEC. Where Wolf feels that students are let down are many of the lower level VQs which do not lead on to further qualifications. However, as an  overview to remind me at a later date, I've put down the key points and spent some time on the context, as I'm lacking in knowledge of the background.

Wolf, A. (2011). Review of vocational education - the Wolf Report. Retrieved from

Purpose: Consider how we can improve VE for 14 to 189 yos and thereby promote successful progression into the labour market and into HE and training routes.

The working definition of VE used: all qualifications, other than GCSEs, A levels, IGCSEs and IB, that incorporate clear vocational content and referencing.

Introduction: There are around 2.5 million 14-19yos, most in full- or part-time education. Education and training programmes should allow young people to progress. There is high youth unemployment. Most 14-19yos take some form of vocational qualification. Almost two thirds of young people don't take A levels - the conventional academic route. Wolf suggests that there is a failing of vocational provision, with no clear progression opportunities. Around 350,000 young people "are poorly served by current arrangements" (p. 21). This is not just a failure of education provision but of changes in labour markets. There is failure of vocational programmes due to constant reorganisations of 14-19 education by central government. She suggests we need a reduction in the centralised management of qualifications and greater involvement of employers, increased efficiency and more relevant qualifications.

The social and labour market context: There has been a reduction in the youth labour market. There are high returns on education and qualifications and high aspirations to HE. There are also high returns to work experience. Rapid economic change is having unpredictable effects on the labour market. All of these impact on 14-19 VQs.

1. Collapse of the youth labour markets: Apprenticeships are a valuable route into employment throughout the EU. The number of young people in employment is low. Those not in education and training face high levels of unemployment. England has very high youth unemployment, up to 25yos. People are pushed into education due to the lack of jobs. even before the 2009 recession, youth unemployment was rising and the number of NEETs increasing.

The nature of the labour market: There is a high level of 'over-qualification' for jobs, but shortages in very specific areas - as demonstrated by the returns for specific qualifications, especially quantitative ones. It is now harder for 16 -17 yos to find employment due to legislation making it more difficult (H&S). The employer perception of 16-17yos leaving education is one of 'low achievers'.

2. High returns to education and qualifications: Education and qualifications 'pay'. Low level VQs have very low returns - they have little or no labour market value (level 2 qualifications). Employers look for qualifications with which they are familiar, rather than trying to keep up with constant qualification reforms.

3. High returns to apprenticeship and employment: Employers value work experience - this explains the high returns associated with apprenticeships. "The best predictor of being employed in the future is being employed now" (p. 34).

4. Occupational change: There is rapid economic and occupational change and a decline in skilled manual jobs.

Implications of change (A): YPs entry into the English labour market:- YP are very likely to change both jobs and occupations in the first years of employment, There is considerable 2churn2 in and out of education and employment.

Implications of change (B): How education systems are adapting - facts and misconceptions:- Most developed countries now delay specialisation to later stages. England pushes for earlier and more complete specialisation in both academic and vocational tracks.

Implications of change (C): Challenges for VE:- VE needs to take into account the varying job histories YP can expect to experience. Needs to take into account aspirations for higher study.

The educational context:
Issues: Young people taking VQs which the labour market does not reward; and also established VQs valued by industry being denied accreditation and funding by the government. YP are being encouraged to take VQs which will reduce opportunities for progression. There are high drop out rates and 'churning'. The funding systems discourage further English/maths courses post-16. There is a marked decrease in returns to post-16 VQs. The causes of these issues are complex.

There has been rapid and repeated change in VE over the past 25 years, for example: new 'non-academic' qualifications such as the Diploma, designed by central government; increasing regulation of qualifications for 14-19yos; redesign of VQs to a specific vocational focus; changes in performance management by central government; apprenticeship reform; changes in funding formulae for 14-19yos; changes/redesign of maths and English, especially for those on VQs.

Key issues A: Key Stage 4: Until recently, VQs were only a small proportion of a 14-15yos timetable. In the 1990s, GNVQs were introduced, at first for post 16s only. Then came GCSE equivalencies for VQs such as BTEC Firsts. The QCA's programme of 'equivalencies' to ensure all qualifications at a particular level are treated as substantively equivalent (and with parity).

Key Issues B: Upper 2nd, age 16-19: No major changes, unlike KS4. Most study for AS and A levels - the 'sixth form' pathway. BTEC awards also attract substantial numbers and are well recognised by HE; these are teacher assessed and awarding body verified.

Part 4: Audit of current provision
In 2009 11.4% of UK applicants accepted for HE entry had BTEC ND and no A levels. A further 1.7% had BTEC national plus A levels. 37.1%  had A levels alone. In 1999 only 4.9 of acceptances had only BTEC nationals. 14-19 education should equip young people to follow different routes successfully and not operate as a tracking system.

1. There is a mismatch between labour market requirements and VE provision. The content of many current VQs is not valued by employers and the labour market. Level 2 courses allow limited progression and lead to churning.
2. The labour market recognises qualifications that are stable and familiar - academic qualifications have been relatively stable. YPs employment patterns imply a need for more general rather than highly specific VQs; however, YP are increasingly being offered only highly specific VQs.

The report discusses the mismatches in VQs and the labour market in detail as well as the role of apprenticeships. There are a large number of recommendations, which the 2015 review returns to.

Need to: Review the Government's response to the Wolf report and also any updates (2015) - for future work rather than of relevance now.

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