England: endless vocational initiatives
While Bernard Mandeville, a philosopher in the early 1700s, would have ‘none neglected that are helpless’, his strictures on the need to put all to work, young and old, able and inﬁ rm, could be taken for the philosophy underlying current government policies towards workers in the UK economy. A major difference was that Mandeville and some of his contemporaries did not consider that the labouring poor needed education – literacy was harmful to the working poor, leading them to become insolent and insubordinate.1 Now, governments having decided that the working classes of all abilities are educable, all are expected to reach minimal levels of literacy, numeracy and some technical mastery. Political panics over low levels of basic literacy have accompanied the seemingly endless vocational initiatives designed primarily for young people, but also intended to improve skill levels in the whole British workforce, and achieve, ‘world class skills’ as the Leitch report Prosperity for all put it (Leitch 2006). This chapter documents the vocational initiatives for young people, following a crisis in oil supplies and a resulting recession in the early 1970s, up to the present time. A variety of work programmes, which have included young people working for free in supermarkets, apprenticeship schemes and more further education college courses, are largely intended as much to compensate for the disappearance of jobs as to upskill the workforce. The chapter notes the anxiety over the NEETS – young people 16-18 who are not in education, employment or training, although by 2015 all young people will legally be required to stay in some form of education or training until 18. It notes the policies for those on disability and incapacity and other welfare beneﬁ ts, which are designed to encourage them into work by removal of beneﬁ ts, and also the increasing hostility towards those perceived to be receiving disability and other beneﬁ ts. A review of 14-19 education funded over several years by the Nufﬁ eld Foundation, commented that ‘the idea of an educated 14-19 year old embraces those with special educational needs and disabilities’ (Pring, Hayward,
Hodgson, Johnson, Keep, Onancea et al. 2009: 113) but had little further to say on the issue; apart from quoting a study based on the long-running Youth Cohort Study which noted that the greater participation of disabled adults in employment and across society made new demands on the 14-19 system. It has already been pointed out that vocational education and training for lower attainers and those regarded as having special educational needs are now regarded as connected. There is also the assumption that the majority of the young people targeted are from working-or non-working-class backgrounds but all are expected to persevere in courses, programmes and training and acquire basic skills and qualiﬁ cations. The exceptions to this are those middle class and aspirant parents who do not generally envisage their low-attaining children taking low-level vocational courses or low-wage work.