Rebalancing the Economy – Fact or Fiction?


What progress has occurred since the government announcement that it intends to reform and rebalance the country’s economy? There is little evidence of that commitment so far in spite of a great deal of rhetoric about skills shortages, gaps, restoring a manufacturing base, productivity levels etc. Age old issues are rehearsed yet again but with little positive and lasting results. If the country is foolish enough to vote to leave the EU the situation will further get worse in terms of competitiveness, skills shortages etc. Lets hope sanity is realised.

The slogan ‘march with the makers’ coined by the Chancellor trivialises this crucially important endeavour bearing in mind the multitude of long standing and fundamental problems and factors associated with the economy. In order to resolve these problems radical solutions need to be identified and addressed recognising that many will be painful for politicians, the financial and banking services, employers and society in general.

In order to compete internationally and establish a rebalanced economy based on manufacturing the following important actions will need to be taken:

Reduce the emphasis on financial and service/consumer based industries and establish a more balanced economy founded on the manufacture of high value products and services.

Move from a linear to a circular economy. Rethink the design, manufacturing and distribution of products – develop a culture of recycling and cease the built in redundancy created by manufacturers. Recycle material to generate energy and to manufacture new products.

Realign the manufacturing base reducing the emphasis on military and weapons production and exports. Develop a set of manufacturing companies that produce high quality products.

Devolve powers from the City, London and the South East to the English Regions and home nations e.g. NI, Wales and Scotland exploiting the undoubted strengths of the whole country and creating a more equitable and fair society.

Develop strong trading links with the emerging economies and recognise the importance of the EU to the economy. If the country is foolish enough to vote to leave the EU the future for the economy is dire.

Raising the levels of productivity within the current work force the country has a productivity level 20% below France, 32% below America and 33% below Germany. A recent survey showed that many workers spent a great deal of their supposed working time on the internet, twitter and sending pointless emails – this partly explains the reason for low productivity.  Education and employers have a major role to play here via in-service training and CPD etc. The dire state of the nations economy must be recognised and addressed – the massive personal and corporate debt will eventually hit a brick wall and cause the country to be totally bankrupt with all the consequent problems. Continued QE will not solve the problems it has only benefitted the banks/financial sectors, the art world, high valued property markets i.e. the 1% of the population and there is no evidence of any benefit or trickle down  to the real economy and the average person. The country and its economy is based on further increasing debt and this must cease and move to producing products that the world will buy.

Massive and sustained investment in infrastructure e.g. transport – roads, railways and public transport in general, affordable housing, digital connectivity and the development of quality broad band across the whole nation.

Raise significantly the current level of skills of workers and move away from a low skill/ low waged economy/high benefit regimes. This example is reinforced by the rapid growth of zero hour contracts.

Develop business critical skills/attributes often called soft skills to prepare people entering employment. Skills such as creativity, team working, problem solving, communications, managing ones own learning etc. are increasingly becoming more important.

Reduce the amount of pointless bureaucracy imposed on employers and provide incentives for employers to train their staff. Sadly investment by employers over the past 20 years has declined every year and this intensifies during recession and turn downs in the economy.

Once and for all adequately resource FE colleges with funding methodologies that recognise high cost low recruitment in strategically important technical, practical orientated and vocational subjects.

Promote and raise the profile of the importance of technical, commercial and vocational education and training across the education system. Create a parity of esteem between FE colleges and Higher Education institutions.

Stop institutions and the school curriculum from academically drifting. Reduce the obsession with examinations and assessments and the academic dominance in the national curriculum.

More fully recognise the importance of FE colleges and training providers and the crucial role they play in training engineers, technicians and skilled practical members of the workforce. Significantly increase and sustain the funding to FECs.

Create more links between schools and FE colleges using the experience of the TVEI.

Develop more work based learning in schools and colleges with compulsory work placements and experience programmes.

Involve employers more in the development and monitoring of the school curriculum.

Continue to create and resource high quality apprenticeship programmes including those at the higher levels. The government must inform employers of the value of apprenticeships and the need for levies. Employers must know what the level of the levy means for them and the apprentices.

Develop more effective and accurate labour market intelligence methods particularly associated with supply and demand issues.

Develop more effective careers information, advice and guidance systems in schools, colleges and universities.

Develop a greater emphasis of technical and vocational elements within the national school curriculum. Create a greater balance and integration between the theoretical and practical aspects of the curriculum. Review fundamentally the balances between content, knowledge, competences and skills with the curriculum.

Tackle the need to develop mathematical, scientific and technological literacy across the curriculum at all levels i.e. school and post-16 curriculum.

Create a better balance between applied and academic skills and between the hard an soft skills in the national curriculum

Develop clear policies and strategies on skills shortages and gaps using accurate and up to date supply and demand data.

Recognise and support more fully micros and SMEs and their important place in the future economy.

Some additional thoughts:

We need to reverse the current financial policy/philosophy of placing the economy over society. The economy is currently driven by banks, financial organisations and the 1% rich and this is now acknowledged as having massively failed. The new approach should be society over economy putting social and people in the driving seat. Obviously this is a very radical proposal which does not fit with current financial practices and political beliefs.

In addition private/personal debt must be addressed and significantly reduced and if possible completely eliminated. This will allow people to invest and save and this in turn will increase demand and contribute to the health of the national economy. People at present are spending what money they have on servicing debt and coping with the costs of living, low wages, frozen annual wage increases and the continuing erosion of working conditions e.g. zero hour contracts. The high costs of covering such items as rent and mortgages continue to dominate their budgets. The obsession with property must be reduced significantly particularly in Britain.

If the economy is driven by society and its members many of the current problems will be reduced. As the nature of work is transformed by robots, the new technologies and the consequences of the global economy developed nations need to urgently review and reform the way it manages employment and the economy. The government must have a clear vision and policy on the national economy and the future nature of work and how this impacts on workers and citizens. One possibility is the introduction of Universal Benefit Income (UBI) which will allow people to survive financially. Radical and challenging reforms are now needed particularly for the developed nations like America, Britain and the EU.

University of London External Degrees

(An external degree is a degree offered by a university or a university approved centre to students where the students’ learning takes place outside the direct supervision of the university/college). The external degree is offered alongside the traditional internal degree programmes for those students who can attend the University full time).

External degrees were established by University of London in 1858 and were offered to people who were not able to attend the institutions in London. The degrees were open to people in other cities, or to London based students who had attended evening classes. Across the country approved/accredited colleges including designated university colleges were established. In 1865 overseas centres were approved the first being in Mauritius.

This mode of study is but one of the pioneering achievements of London University – also the first Higher Education Institution in England to admit women to degrees and to offer innovative degrees in engineering and science. Today external degrees still form part of the University’s portfolio of distance learning programmes which has greatly expanded with the advent of information and communication technologies and on-line learning. Currently the University of London External System continues to innovate offering over 100 qualifications many taught using the latest technologies. Approximately 41,000 students from 180 nations pursing external degrees based on 2008 figures. External degrees and study offer real opportunities to students who because of financial, energy and time constraints cannot travel between one’s home town and the University and increasingly for those who are undertaking study with paid employment. Today with the advent of distance and on-line learning the opportunities are greatly increased.

The majority of Higher Education (HE) institutions now offer external learning opportunities but London was the first to offer external degrees. However I want to focus on the award from a personal viewpoint and describe their importance to many students particularly in the mid-1900s when secondary schooling was very different and defined by the tripartite system. Many people are surprised that this mode of study and attendance existed then. So I hope this short account will highlight its importance, recognise the pioneering work of London University and show how the external degrees were managed and operated to benefit many students at that time.

I was an external degree student studying the BSc Special Honours Physics programme between 1962 and 1965 at Portsmouth College of Technology. The college had gained accreditation from London University to offer external degrees both at Special and General level in a wide range of subjects e.g. botany, economics, engineering, physics and sociology, London University deemed that the college possessed the necessary resources and reputation to offer its HE programmes.

Like many individuals who had failed the 11+ Colleges offered me a second chance after leaving Secondary Modern School which in the system of the time did not offer GCE qualifications. Initially I attended the College to take GCE ‘O’ and then ‘A’ levels. Staff at the college then encouraged me to continue my studies by pursuing the Special Honours Physics Degree. Another aspect in my favour was that at the time London University had for a few years in the early 1960s dropped the English ‘O’ level entry requirement for both internal and external students! This shows the role luck can often play in one’s education.

Overall the external degree required the same entry qualifications for all student applicants and the syllabuses were identical. The duration of study period for full-time students was shorter than for part-time students who obviously took longer. All the theory and practical classes were conducted at the College and delivered by the college staff. To complement and reinforce our studies the college offered a series of evening talks on specific scientific topics related to the course given by expert speakers. Finally guest speakers were invited to deliver lectures during the day sessions. In the last year students on the degree course occasionally went to London University to hear specialised lectures from University staff; then the audience comprised both external and internal students.

However students were required to take the Part 1 and the Finals practical examinations and Mathematics for Physics paper at London University. Students from Portsmouth and some overseas students attended Imperial College to take the practical examinations at the end of the second and third years. All the examinations were operated on an unseen basis meaning that the students had no idea of what was going to be asked.

I mention the unseen aspect as subsequently I was told by former internal students that they could often discern or guess what topics could be raised in the examinations from the emphasis their lecturers gave during their lectures. Whether this was true or not would be difficult to prove but after all the University staff did set the papers where as the college staff had no involvement in the examination process. In fact when I applied for post-graduate studies at other universities the admission tutors said how much they rated external degree graduates. Often they would reinforce that view by saying that the degree classification achieved by external students was one grade less than the internal students had gained because of this unseen aspect! Again I cannot verify this perception but the admission tutors quite openly stressed that possibility when extolling the value of the external degree.

The examination regime was quite challenging Part 1 comprised six theory papers plus a number of practical examinations taken in London. The Finals comprised a number of optional papers some with a mathematical emphasis and a six hour practical again taken in London. Even with these challenges I enjoyed the experience of taking an external degree that required a lot of private study and the need to cover the entire given syllabus. The teaching and support staff at Portsmouth were sympathetic and understanding of the problems that 11+ failures could experience. It is important to remember that it was still at that time a relatively rare occurrence for Secondary Modern school leavers to undertake further and higher studies.


(Subsequently Portsmouth College of Technology proved its academic credentials by becoming one of the leading Polytechnics and eventually gained University status in 1992). This progression surely validated its designation as an accredited centre for London University external degrees in the early 1960s.)


The Jargon Continues

The Jargon Continues

The world of education and training continues to bombard us with complex and often meaningless jargon and slogans avoiding more simplified meanings. Inspection agencies are particularly probe to seek sanctuary in jargon and slogans. The topic has also now invented its own jargon namely eduspeak, pedagogese and edutalk etc!

Term Simple meaning
Alternative provision Learning outside college
Buy in Agree with a proposal  etc.
Differentiation Using different approaches for different types of students
Deliverables Situations that can be realised/achieved
Drill down Analyse more closely
Engaged Work/collaborate with
Facing A meeting!
Going forward or moving forward Improving or progressing
Inclusivity Involves all
Intervention Offering extra support, guidance to students
It’s on my radar I am aware of it
Key metrics Important factors or indices
Learning ethos/environment Classrooms/laboratories
Leverage How situation/something can be manipulated or controlled
Performance management Setting targets for teachers/lecturers
Outcomes/Outcome-focused Results
Paradigm shift No idea what this means
Professional development Training
Pushing the envelope No idea -after all the envelope is still stationary/stationery! (Sorry)
Reaching out Let’s set up a meeting  or contact someone
Robust Good workable idea/proposal
Rubric It’s a check list
SWAT team Group of experts
Synergise Work effectively together in teams
Take it to the next level Improve
Thinking outside the box Be original
Thought leader No idea what this means!
360 degree evaluation Comprehensive review
Trailblazers Pilots
Transitionism Situations  are changing



Ayrton an interesting note

I am very grateful to Yasu. Shinohara, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan for sending this fascinating piece. We have worked together on issues associated with technical education in Japan and Britain. See biographies for more about Ayrton and his amazing achievements.


Fact File Ayrton 1


‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’


Mr Ayrton was a hard worker. He went to the laboratory even in Sundays to study. He

designed his own desk. There are many research publications he wrote with Mr John

Perry. That is why then it was said as if the centre of electronic engineering moved from

Britain to Japan. Mr Ayrton often got off the track during his lectures. Students did not

understand right away what important things he would tell, then we realised the

significance of his episodes later many times. Mr Ayrton always said to us, ‘Please don’t

copy someone else. You should not replicate something existed already. You must try to

make the thing better and discover something better.’ Mr Ayrton had been studying

until the very end of his Japan days. At that time he was studying about the ratio of

electrostatic unit to electromagnetic unit. On his way home, Mr Ayrton never stopped

the calculation and he got the result at Hong Kong, then he kindly sent it to Japan by

telegram. The followings are the questions Mr Ayrton gave us at a physics lesson.

  1. Can you add a line to a line?
  2. Can you subtract a line from a line?
  3. Can you multiply a line with a line?
  4. Can you divide a line by a line?



Editing society of the history of ICE, History of Imperial College of Engineering

[Kyu-koubu-daigakko-shiryo] (1931) pp.163-164. ‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’ extracted

from ‘The old days of the Imperial College of Engineering’


NAKAMURA Hachiro, The beginning and development of electric industry in Japan

[Denkijigyo-no-ransho-to-tenkaikatei] (United Nation University, 1982) p.7

Dates of Inventions, Discoveries and other Developments

Dates of Inventions, Discoveries and other Developments.

This section complements the pen portraits ‘Great Engineers and Pioneers and their Education’ on this website.

Again it must be stressed that the industrial revolution was driven by craftsmen like James Watt, self- taught business people like Matthew Boulton and artisans like Henry Maudslay. It did not develop from London or through royal patronage but from Cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. The universities played little part it its creation as many of the inventors and individuals never attended formal educational institutions and as the history of technical education identifies dissenting academies, mechanics’ institutions and working men’s clubs etc. made important contributions to their education as did the apprenticeship schemes active at that time. However the majority were self-taught and possessed a remarkable inherent, innate talent and outstanding manual skills

November 2015

It will be further expanded.

1563 William Lee invents the Stocking Frame for knitting stockings.

1658: Clock balance spring. Robert Hooke.

1698: First attempt to use steam power. Thomas Savery.

1671: Silk spinning machine. Edmund Blood.

1678 Coke to smelt introduced by a number of people including Clement Clerke.

1694 First Centre Bank establishes in England.

1701/08: Machine seed drill. Jethro Tull.

1709: Improved iron smelting process. Abraham Darby – Coke fuelled furnaces used by Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale.

1712 Steam engine. Thomas Newcomen and Thomas Savery. Newcomen used a piston in his engine.

1718 Thomas Lombe’s silk mill, Derby.

1721: First mechanised water-powered silk mill at Derby. John Lombe.

1728: Ship chronometer. John Harrison.

1730 First successful iron plough introduced by Joseph Foljambe Rotherham.

1732: Threshing machine. Michael Menzies.

1733: Flying shuttle (weaving). John Kay. Stephen Hales first measures blood pressure.

1736 John Harrison tests his first sea clock.

1738 Paul Lewis’s roller spinning machine.

1740s Crucible steel techniques introduced by Benjamin Huntsman in Doncaster.

1743: Wool carding machine. David Bourne. Chelsea Porcelain Works opened.

1744 Integrated brass mill in operation in Bristol.

1743: Compound lever. John Wyatt.

1746: Production of sulphuric acid by the lead chamber process. John Roebuck.

1750 After 1750 Turnpike Trusts were established to improve main roads. Investments in roads in the early 1800s was around £3 million.

1751 Worcester Porcelain Factory opened.

1759 First Canal Act in 1830 there were 4,000 miles of canals in Britain.

1758: First threshing machine.

1759 Wedgwood’s Burslem factory opened. Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse started.

1760 Wyatt’s wood screw patented.

1761: Bridgewater Canal opened Worley to Manchester – James Brindley.

1763 Newcomen engine used in colliery winding.

1764/65: Spinning jenny – patented in 1770. James Hargreaves.

1765 James Watt produces a more efficient version of the Newcomen engine.

1766 Soho Ironworks opened, Birmingham.

1767 Joseph Priestly invents a method of producing carbonated water.

1769: Hydraulic spinning frame-spinning frame or water frame patented. Richard Arkwright. Arkwright’s first factory opened in Nottingham.

1770 First iron plough invented.

1771 Arkwright’s Cromford Mill opened.

1774: Leeds and Liverpool canal opened. Wilkinson’s boring machine invented.

1775: First efficient steam engine improved Newcomen engine. James Watt. Boulton and Watt partnership established.

1776 Adam Smith publishes ‘The Wealth of Nations’.

1777 Arkwright’s Birkacre Mill opened.

1778: Improved flush toilet. Joseph Braham. Mortise tumbler invented. Robert Barron. Ramsden’s screw cutting lathe invented.

1779: First steam powered mills utilises Hargreave’s and Arkwright’s machines. Samuel Crompton mule invented.

1781 Watt’s sun and planet gears developed.

1783: Improved iron manufacturing processes – rolling and puddling in 1784. Henry Cort.

1784: Invention of secure locks. Joseph Brahm.

1784: Threshing machine invented by Andrew Meikle. Lea mills founded by John Smedley.

1785: Vertical power loom patented. Edmund Cartwright. Ransome’s patent for ploughshare.

1786: Two man operated loom patented. Edmund Cartwright. Meikle’s threshing machine invented.

1787 First iron boat built by John Wilkinson.

1787 Cartwright builds a power loom.

1789: Thames and Severn canal opened.  Edward Arkwright’s water frame patented.

1791 First compound steam engine introduced by Cornish engineer Jonathon Hornblower.

1792: First domestic gas lighting system in Redruth Cornwall. William Murdock. Cartwright’s wool combing machine invented.

1793 Minton Porcelain Factory opened, Stoke-on Trent

1793/1803: The Dee and Cierog iron aqueducts. Thomas Telford.

1793 Eli Whitney develops his cotton gin to clean raw cotton.

1795: Hydraulic press – first demonstration by Joseph Bramah.  Soho Foundry opened by Boulton and Watt.

1796 Spode produced bone china.

1797 Henry Maudslay invents the first industrial lathe.

1798 Edward  Jenner invents first successful vaccine for smallpox.

1799 Eddystone Lighthouse completed by John Smeaton stood until 1882. George Medhurst the motorised air compreesor.

1800: Development of bleaching powder. Charles Tennant.

1801/04: Steam locomotive. Richard Trevithick.

1802 High pressure steam engine patented by Richard Trevithick. William Cruickshank designed first electric battery capable of mass production. Soho Works partly lit by gas.

1802 William Cruickshank designs electric battery capable of mass production.

1803 Ploughshare of chilled cast irob developed by Robert Ransome of Clipswich, Suffolk. John Dalton developed the atomic theory.

1803  Between 1803 and 1822 Caledonian Canal cuts across Scotland.

1805 Micrometer invented by Henry Maudslay.

1805-1806 Steam dredger used on various river beds and docks by Richard Trevithrick. Pontcysylltau (Llangollen, Wales)  opened for business by Thomas Telford.

1807 Robert Fulton’s Clermont first successful steamboat – greatly improved transport by sea and international trade. Alexander John Forsyth patents percussion cap.

1809 Humphry Davy invents first electric arc lamp. Dickinson’s papermaking machine invented. Bobbinet lace making machine invented.

1810 Chain bridge design patented by Samuel Brown.

1811 Plymouth breakwater started completed in 1838! John Rennie.

1812 Richard Trevithvick adapted steam engine to work at a pressure of 40 pounds per square inch.

1813: Mine safety lamp. Humphrey Davy and George Stephenson. Improved loom patented by Samuel Horrock.

1813: Improved loom developed. Samuel Horrocks.

1815 Doulton Pottery opened, Lambeth. Steam driven introduced in paper-making.

1816: First ‘macadamised’ road surface. Improved smelting process introduced by Joseph Hall of Tipton – greatly improved Henry Cort method of puddling. Davy safety lamp invented.

1817 Jacquard loom patented.

1818: Middleton milling machine. Robert Johnson and Simeon North.

1819 First steamship in the world to enter to enter sea-going service the Rob Roy by William Denny of Dumbarton.

1821: Demonstration of the principle of the electric motor through electro-magnetic rotation. Michael Faraday. Steam pump used to drain the Fens in east Anglia.

1823 Charles Mackintosh patents a water proof fabric.

1824: Chemical process patented for making Portland cement. Joseph Aspdin.

1825: Invention of the tunneling shield. Marc Brunel. Darlington-Stockton railway opened by George Stephenson. William Sturgeon invents the electromagnet.

1826 Journeymen Steam Engine Fitters established first major industrial trade union in Manchester. Fly frame patented by Henry Houldsworth. St. Helens Crown Glass Company established. John Walker invents friction match.

1828 Hot blast furnace/oven patented by James Beaumont Neilson. Bell’s reaping machine invented.

1830 George and Robert Stephenson worked together on the London-Birmingham railway. R Stephenson produced his Planet locomotive – 4 wheel design 2-2-0.

1830 Liverpool-Manchesrer Railway begins first regular commercial rail service.

1831: Electric generator. Michael Faraday used a method of electromagnet induction. Also discovered independently a year later by Joseph Henry.

1832 Sheet glass produced by Chance Brothers (Techniques discovered in Europe).

1833 Ericsson’s screw propeller invented.

1833/34: Differential calculating machine. Charles Babbage.

1834: Accurate measuring machine constructed to measure one-millionth of an inch. Joseph Whitworth.

1834: The photographic process discovered. Fox Talbot.

1835 Francis Smith invents the propeller. Joseph Henry invents the electromechanical relay.

1838 First successful screw steamer Archimedes launched by the Rennie Brothers at Millwall in November.

1839: Introduction of photographic paper. Fox Talbot. William Grove develops principles of hydrogen fuel cell. Nasmyth’s steam hammer invented.

1840 Manufacture of ferro-manganese by David Mushet – an excellent wearing resistance material. Roland Hill introduces prepaid mail and the first postage stamp. George Hudson built first railway station in York. Electroplating invented.

1841: Standard thread accepted. Joseph Whitworth. Fox Talbot’s calotype patented. Jacquard loom adapted for lace making. Shipbuilding yards opened at Govan by Robert Napier.

1842 Bessemser’s typesetting machine invented.

1843: First cement underwater tunnel opened– Thames Tunnel. Ransome’s made first all-iron plough.

1844 John Mercer invents mercertised cotton. Whitworth’s gear cutting machine invented.

1845 Compound steam engine invented by William McNaught.

1846 First hydraulic crane produced by William Armstrong.

1849 Steam plough patented by James Usher of Edinburgh.

1850 Britannia Bridge, Menai Straits, Anglesey by Robert Stephenson.

1850 Canal system was 4,000 miles.

1851  Hydraulic accumulator invented by William Armstrong (1850?).

1853: Piloted glider. George Cayley.

1854: Invention steel converter by Henry Bessemer. John Tyndall identifies principles of fibre optics. Fowler’s steam plough invented. First tarmac road laid in Paris invented by John McAdam.

1855 Joseph Whitworth produced a measuring machine capable of detecting a difference of a millionth part of an inch. James Clerk Maxwell invents first practical method for colour photography.

1855 Regius Chair of Technology founded at Edinburgh. William Bessemer patents new process for steel making.

1856: Production of aniline dyes. William Perkin. First practical commercial refrigeration system patented in England by James Harrison. Bessemer converter invented.

1857 New improved regenerative furnace invented by Friedrich Siemens. Steam driven generator used to produce electricity for lighting.

1858 First trans-Atlantic cable completed.

1860 HMS Warrior Britain’s first iron warship is launched.

1861 Siemens furnace first used for glass manufacture.

1862 Titanic Steel and Iron Company founded by Robert Mshet.

1873: Explanation of electromagnetism and waves. James Clerk Maxwell.

1884 Steam turbine engine patented by Charles Parsons.

1887 Large-scale manufacture of manganese steel in Sheffield by Robert Hadfield.

1892 James Dewar invents vacuum flask.

1894: Last major canal built in Britain – Manchester Ship Canal.

1896 First vessel propelled by turbines – Charles Parsons.

1926 John Logie Baird invents the TV.

August 2014.

Is this a Weak Link?

One of the striking features of the secondary education system in England is the failure to introduce vocational elements into the curriculum. Successive attempts to create a long term and effective system including these elements have proved ineffective because of a whole series of factors, all of which have been discussed ad nauseam over many decades. Such worthy initiatives/schemes as CPVE, TVEI. GNVQ ,  link courses between schools and colleges and a series of reforms to establish vocational awards all ultimately failed because of political indifference or dogma. In addition many school teachers and LEAs were suspicious and in some cases hostile to TVEI.  I worked in one authority that was very supportive of the initiative and excellent relationships were established between the colleges, schools and the LEA. Some of these initiatives promised much but few were properly evaluated and any lessons learnt were never picked up as so often happens with other initiatives in his country.

At present the skills agenda is being promoted by the government although as usual mixed and often contradictory policies are being presented as can be seen from the latest consultation on ‘Apprenticeship Funding  Reform’ which would put a ludicrous burden on employers especially Micro businesses and SMEs . The centrality and importance of apprenticeships in creating a qualified workforce is on the agenda along with reforms to vocational qualifications but I feel that one major element is still absent which the government continues not to recognise and action. This deficit in the skills agenda is the absence of a long term, effective and mandatory set of work experience programmes such as work sampling/shadowing or work placement at school level reinforced by a curriculum that contains vocational subjects and themes.  The government’s recent decision to withdraw funding to help schools facilitate work experience is depressing and retrograde and again reflects the lack of strategic thinking on the development of a qualified and skilled workforce.

Significant evidence exists that shows that students achieve and perform better if they have experienced some form of work   experience or a greater practical awareness of the world of work. This is equally true whether the students are on the so-called academic programmes or vocational programmes. Furthermore the evidence shows conclusively that the earlier that experience occurs the better prepared the students are to more fully understand the needs of employment which in turn assists them to make better informed decisions about their future employment  and/or further studies.

In spite of this conclusive evidence schools still find it difficult to engage with industry and commerce. The government mantras of ‘march with the maker’s,’ students must have employability skills’ and ‘students must be work ready’ are meaningless when the schools are not prepared  to develop links with employers. In order to effectively realise a skills agenda and assist a rebalancing of the economy vocational elements and work based activities must be introduced from at least key stage 4.

So what are the reasons, whether real or imagined , why schools are reluctant to introduce these crucial elements into the curriculum?

Typical comments from school managers/teachers about vocational and work experience programmes are:

  • Too little time to arrange non-essential topics in the timetable (Note the word non-essential which indicates little understanding or sympathy for such activities).
  • The curriculum is driven by tests and examinations which allows little time for other activities.
  • The curriculum has become a strait jacket, a tread mill coupled with an obsession with academic subjects.
  • It’s difficult to establish industry-based projects which require cross subject involvement as colleagues are pinned down by form filling, teaching for tests and petty bureaucracy or they are not committed to the idea.
  • No time to release students onto programmes of work shadowing/sampling, work placement and arranging for visits by and to employers.
  • Students can undertake work placed experience at a later stage when at college; schools need to maintain an academically focused curriculum.
  • The need to study as many subjects for GCSEs is often mentioned; it would appear that schools have accepted that cramming the curriculum is the norm and success is measured by grades and maximising the number of subjects gained.
  • Employers cannot afford to expend resources especially at this time of recession and too often show they do not understand education.

Many of these factors are not necessarily the fault of the teachers; many are precipitated by present government policies which continue to heavily prescribe a narrow academic curriculum as evidenced by the replacement of functional skills by GCSE English and Mathematics. Also implicated is the acceptance by the government of a recommendation of the Wolf Review to stop funding for facilitating work experience in schools. Yes, academic drift is alive and thriving under this government whatever they say about vocational and apprenticeship programmes being a priority. Finally as has been said before staff in schools have little or no direct experience of the world of work outside their own profession following the traditional route of school, university/training college straight into teaching.

Employers especially the SMEs, which make up approximately 50% of all employers in the UK, must be provided with funding and equally importantly not tied down with increased petty bureaucracy. Effective and long term partnerships between schools, local colleges and training providers, professional bodies, LEAs and employers will surely increase the likelihood of a successful implementation of vocational and work experience programmes and remove the weak link in the chain which current policy represents.



A Threat to Rebalancing the Economy?

A concern in many countries is the current and growing trend among young qualified people who decide to leave to seek employment in other countries as a consequence of the continuing recession and financial crisis. Many young people have become increasingly disillusioned after qualifying to find they are underemployed or unemployed. If this trend continues to increase it will seriously undermine strategies to reform and rebalance the economies of countries in Europe and beyond. In addition people who have been made redundant or are in employment areas that are vulnerable to closure or down sizing are equally uncertain about their future employment prospects in their own countries.  One recent statistic highlights this development which is not just about the young people but that there has been a 45% increase in the redundancy rate for women over 50 between 2010 and 2013 compared with 13% increase in their redundancy rate in the previous few years.

The current spectre of high unemployment especially amongst young people emphasises the urgent requirement of a fundamental rethink of the methods a country uses to reconfigure its economy in order to recover from the current crisis and cope with all the uncertainties of the future.  To date very few governments, especially in the West, have failed to recognise let alone begin to tackle the underlying causes of the crisis. Indeed many are continuing to operate the same practices that caused the crisis in the first place e.g. an obsession with property and the rampant operation of the so-called free market which creates artificial bubbles that will in turn recreate the boom and burst economy. One depressing feature of the obsession with property and house ownership in England is that for young people buying a property is an almost impossible dream and is another factor in the desire to move abroad.

The current profile of employment in Britain lacks credibility and is based on highly questionable ethical practices comprising as it does people on part time contracts very often with little or no security of tenure or employment rights e.g. zero hour contracts. At present there are 1.4million people on zero hour contracts employed mainly by larger companies in Britain. Sadly other areas of employment are adopting this practice e.g. universities and colleges.  Also the country continues to be wedded to a skewed economy dominated by financial and banking services. The situation is particularly depressing when young people have been conned into going into HE with the expectation of appropriate employment for their subject specialism coupled with reasonable salaries. In addition they are lumbered with massive student debt with little prospect of clearing it in their life time – this is particularly the case in England and USA. The future for many young people is very uncertain and one can understand their frustration and desire to find meaningful employment and life abroad.

But it is these graduates and experienced workers of all ages who have been made redundant for whom the home country needs to revitalise and rebalance the economy. Many are the next generation who should be valued for the country’s future. Unless the country recognises this fact then people will migrate elsewhere and contribute to a more vibrant and secure economy there while their home country’s economy founders further.

Many commentators have argued that this is not a serious issue because of the dynamics of the world economy. The world over people will move to other countries and replace those who have left. This however raises many interesting questions about how a country plans and manages its education and training system. In the past the West has often been accused of poaching from abroad qualified people from such areas as nursing, other medical professionals and dentistry with all the associated ethical issues. After all these countries are often poor and have invested in their people’s education and training only to find richer countries benefit from that investment.  I have no problems about global mobility which will hopefully enrich, create mutual respect  and create greater understanding amongst different cultures but it must be managed in a more ethical and reciprocal fashion recognising the needs of each country.

If each country is serious about rebalancing its economy and realising a sensible level of employment it must carry out fundamental reviews of its education and training systems to more effectively match its future economy. Critical decisions need to be taken about the shape of the manufacturing /service industries and the skills that they require. In addition a more accurate analysis of the supply and demand requirements is needed that will create confidence amongst their own populations that the skills they possess will be recognised and valued by employers. Failure to carry out these reviews and reforms will weaken any attempts to rebalance their economies.


Re-balancing the Economy and the Skills Agenda

(A viewpoint jointly written by R Evans and A Rego. It reinforces many of the issues raised in other Parts of this website. I am very grateful to Artur for joining me writing this article as he brings a great deal of expertise and experience in examinations and assessments with City and Guilds across a wide spread of subjects and programmes).

The current financial crisis could provide some opportunities to
fundamentally re-evaluate and reform the way the current economy is managed
and operates. It is obvious that the current model of capitalism is flawed
and has been largely responsible for creating the crisis. It is based on a
number of false assumptions/beliefs including a culture that is built on
accumulating debt and the questionable operation of a largely unregulated
free market. Complex and abstract algorithms and manipulations of
derivatives of the stock exchanges have created a world divorced from the
real world and models constructed by pure mathematicians. It is a zombie
economy and unfortunately many governments in the West are still wedded to
this culture having learnt nothing from the past. Many countries continue to
borrow /print more money assuming that more debt will solve the problems! A
sobering statistic is that the global debt has increased 30 trillion dollars
since the financial crisis began and now stands at a staggering 100 trillion
dollars. Debt and the creation of highly questionable bubbles e.g.
associated with property caused the problems and increasing further the debt
is certainly not the solution. Such tactics as quantitative easing is not
the remedy as it only builds up more serious problems in the future and is a
classic example of short term expediency!

Surely this on-going crisis that has created so many problems including high
unemployment especially amongst young people and requires once and for all a
radical overhaul of the way the economy is managed. There must be a sensible
and equitable balance between the wealth producing elements of the economy
and one that is not skewed to financial services as has happened in a number
of countries e.g. Britain. Such major reforms must include reforming the
structure of the manufacturing base of the country along with how the
educational and training systems can produce more highly qualified people
for the industries of the future. In addition there needs to be an urgent
and fundamental review of what skills will be needed in the future and how
we define them. What is not needed that unfortunately many countries have
done is to cut training and education budgets even though a country has to
introduce austerity measures.

So what reforms could be introduced to rebalance the economy?


To rebalance the economy the following actions have surely to be considered
and implemented:

Ø Develop a totally new paradigms of how the economy operates which is
balanced and independently regulated and audited

Ø Grow the economy and make this the top priority for wealth generation

Ø Invest long term in skills development and retraining the workforce

Ø Create a real economy based on sustainable skilled jobs and living wages
i.e. real jobs and real wages.

Ø Develop a balanced economy with a sensible balance between manufacturing
and service –based industries with a major emphasis on improving quality,
flexibility and productivity of the workforce.

Ø Emphasise national creation and growth that is based on carefully
considered, consistent and long term investment in industries that are
productive and responsive to world markets.

Ø Create more effective labour market intelligence systems and achieve a
more sensible balance between supply and demand

Ø Create more effective education and training systems with greater
commitment to work based training and apprenticeships.

* Improve the skills and quality of managers.

It has become apparent in the post crisis world that financial and monetary
treatment of current socio-economic ailments neither generates value, nor
provides a solution for long-term development. It is only by shifting
attention to education and skills development that governments will be able
to establish a new platform for economic value creation and ensure the
viability of social and economic reforms aimed at rescuing nations from the
post-crisis havoc wrought by financial bubbles. Failing to found economic
pulsation on education will just lead to another inflated bubble and a
concomitant illusion of artificial, unsustainable social welfare based on
consumption credit rather than production-based real economic value.

In order to avoid fatal social economic crashes in the future the education
system will need to take responsibility for educating the upcoming
generation on financial savvy and basic financial concepts. Without being
armed with such knowledge the holders of skills will fail to make informed
financial decisions to avoid financial traps that destroy value creation.

Reforming skills will form an essential element in rebalancing the economy in order to create a high quality, flexible and productive workforce. One critical factor is to clearly define and understand the concept of a particular skill and equally importantly the work context in which it will be applied as skills can be a slippery and constantly changing concept.  The dictionary definition of skills is fairly precise, namely “capability of accomplishing something with precision and certainty” and “practical knowledge in combination with ability”. This definition highlights the essential relationships between skill, practice and knowledge. Skills are about performing tasks, doing them well and doing them based on ‘practical knowledge’ Therefore skills have to be learnt and as a result bring about a combination of learning and skills as they are of equal importance. This conflation of learning and skills is to be welcomed as it places equal value on these two essential elements e.g. theory and practice, manual and cognitive skills. For too long there has been an artificial separation between subject and practice in the education/training world.  Clearly the location of the education and training systems must be central to the debates on rebalancing the economy in order to compete successfully on the global stage. Employers across Europe have identified the skills they want in employees and stress the importance of the following classifications:

  • Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced skills particularly manufacturing based occupations
  • Business, commercial, financial and service occupation skills
  • Technical and operative  occupation skills
  • Information Communication Technologies, scientific and mathematical skills
  • Skills for management and leadership in all sized companies

Currently these skills are grouped into three categories namely:

  • Basic/core/functional skills e.g. literacy, numeracy and capability in information communication technologies (ICT)
  • Generic/transferable skills – sometimes referred to as employability skills e.g. customer-handling, interpersonal skills, managing one’s own learning, problem solving, team working etc. (Employers particularly stress the importance of these skills).
  • Specific/specialist skills e.g. skills required in specific occupations.

The mobility of capital has resulted in the emergence of cross-cultural
work-places whose functionality is inconceivable without a common language.
As a natural evolution of history the role of such a lingua franca has come
to be filled by English, saliently altering the required trajectory of
skills development that also has to include English language, especially in
cultures where English is not a native tongue. The importance of English as
a Foreign language has come into the foreground in all daily work-place
interactions, encompassing job interviews, sending quotes and in describing
and understanding production processes. It has become inseparable from basic
employability skills. With the increase of immigration into the UK and the
need to integrate immigrants into local economic production, its importance
has never been more pertinent in the UK as well.

Of all awarding bodies, City & Guilds (CGLI) is one of the most dedicated to
integrating English language skills with other productive skills, by
offering a practical communicative English language qualification (called
International ESOL and Spoken ESOL) that has direct applications for the
work-based use of English language by skilled people, among others. This
ensures that all functional and specialist skills simultaneously become
cross-culturally transferable, enhancing their employability value.

In any debates about rebalancing the economy it is essential they must go hand in hand with fundamental reforms to the education and training systems. Past practices must be dispatched to the dustbin of history with historical signposts offering little assistance! New, creative and innovative approaches/ methods need to be adopted into the way learning and teaching is managed and operated. Education and training organisations and their staff must also be prepared to accept the new challenges and change many of their past practices. Some of the elements that need to be addressed and actioned are given below.

ü  Establish effective, sustainable and lasting links between education, training, industry and government

ü  To recognise that vocational/technical education and training is as important and on an equal footing as the so-called academic route.

ü  The introduction of well managed and widely available programmes of work experience, work based learning to all learners at schools, colleges and other training providers and at higher education level more sandwich courses

ü  Schools, colleges, training providers and universities must accept it is not just about formal academic instruction BUT ALSO about the importance of providing opportunities to all students to experience on-job training/work related learning (WRL) programmes. Expressed more precisely the urgent need to create a balance between theory and practice in the curriculum

ü  The essential requirement to have effective programmes of lifelong learning and programmes of continuous professional development (CPD) in companies and education and training providers.

ü  Identify and define what skills are required within each occupational area and develop long term strategies for skills development including for the higher levels i.e. 3+

Awarding bodies, notably City & Guilds (CGLI) and many others, have the function of
a spanning bridge between economy and education on the one hand, and economy
and society on the other. The standards they create to align the social
skills platform with the needs of production forces in the economy are
paramount for a successful transition to an education-based people-centred
economy. The role of awarding bodies has never been more important in that
respect: the learning and quality assurance based platform with which such
organisations support skills development are a reassurance to productive
economic forces that the pillars of future growth reside in their employee’s

However, awarding bodies are only endemic to the UK. In continental European
cultures the concept of an awarding body is relatively unknown in that
education standards are exclusively a government monopoly, with all its
systemic faults that on many occasions entail bureaucracy, inefficiency and
a failure to align the supply and demand of skills in local markets. From
this perspective the UK does have a vantage point to develop a unique skills
agenda that truly supports socio-economic developments for the benefits of

Written by:

Dr R Evans and Artur Rego (Business Development Manager, City and Guilds, European Office)



The Further Education Unit (FEU)

Founded in 1977 the Further Education Unit with Geoff Melling its first chairman when Geoff returned to the inspectorate Jack Mansell was then appointed in 1980 to head up the Unit and soon proved to be an excellent director having an in-depth knowledge of the FE sector.  The purpose of the Unit was to advise on, and support research into, curriculum, learning and teaching matters associated with further education and was to be an independent agency from government even though it was funded by the DES. According to Geoff Melling the FEU was floated at the back of the Government document on the Unified Vocational Preparation (UVP which the government thought the FEU would be the agency to help develop the initiative. At the beginning the Unit had very limited resources but was able to establish effective and equal working relationships with the main awarding bodies e.g. CGLI, RSA and the then developing TEC, BEC and DATEC. The initial focus of the Unit’s work was pre-vocational provision which at this time received little attention from the main stream awarding bodies and indeed the FE sector. Three groups had been identified in colleges namely the youth unemployed (YUs), the young stayers-ons (YSOs) and the young workers (YWs) – sorry about the clumsy expressions they were the ones used at the time. The Unit and its publications greatly added influenced the development of pre-vocational curriculum. The Unit was acutely aware of the dearth of support for staff in FE on issues such as staff and curriculum development. The Unit was also one of the driving forces in the creation of Regional Curriculum Bases (RCBs) and Experimental Colleges (ECs). The Unit cleverly adopted both a pro-active and reactive stance on many issues although it must be said that the DES did not always welcome the FEU’s interventions or pronouncements. Clearly the Unit was established before the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) which when created impacted greatly on the Unit’s work and required the Unit to being a much larger organisation. However the Unit achieved a great deal in supporting the development of such initiatives as CPVE, PICKUP, REPLAN Another great feature of the FEU was the staff very knowledgeable, professional, very approachable and committed to the FE sector and its work. It was always a pleasure to meet with them at conferences/seminars or when they visited your college and many became friends. Also there was buzz when an FEU publication arrived in the college library/learning resources centre staff would be mentioning it to colleagues and discussing its content which reinforced the high regard the Unit and its work were held. The Unit developed an effective communications systems with colleges through its reports, bulletins etc. And staff genuinely valued the Unit and its work.

When Jack Mansell retired Geoff Stanton was appointed as Director again an excellent appointment who continued to provide valuable support to the FE sector until its demise.

Examples of some of the seminal publications in the form of reports, news-sheets, bulletins etc.  by FEU is shown below. A remarkable archive with many of the publications being as relevant today as when they were first published. I still have many of these publications and find them an invaluable resource.

Some examples of FEU publications:

A Basis of Choice (ABC) -a seminal document (1979)- this was focused on the Young stayer-ons, ABC in Action (1981), A Common Core of Skills for Vocational Preparation (1982), Active Learning (1978), An introduction to the FE Unit (1993), Aspects of CPVE (1986),  Assessment of Prior Learning and Experience (1990), Beyond Coping (1980), Black Students and Access to HE (1987), Continuous Professional Development (1981), Core competences in engineering (1985), CPVE (1985), CPVE and NVQ (1987), Day Release (1980), Developing Tutoring Skills (1985), Engineering Education (1984), Examinations and Assessment (1990), Experience, Reflection and Learning (1981)- this was focused on Young Workers, Extending TVEI (1985),  FEU response to the New Training Initiative (1981),  FEU response to Examinations 16-19 (1980), Higher Skills (), FE and YTS (1985), Language in teaching and learning (1977),  Post-16 TVEI (1985), Progressing for Vocational Preparation (1982),  17+ (1982), 17+ a new pre-vocational qualification (1982), 16-19 The FE Contribution (1977), Supporting YOP (19979)-this was focused on the Young Unemployed, The Unit in FE (1978), Tradec (1983), Understanding Accreditation (1992), Vocational Education and Training (1990).

The FEU was merged with the Further Education Staff College (FESC/Coombe Lodge), see later pen portrait, in 1995 and a single publically funded body was founded namely The Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) that supported FE in England. Then in 2006 its functions were separated into the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) and the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) and its trading subsidiary Inspire Learning (also known as The Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL). LSDA was to support post-16 education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Inspire Learning and the QIA were re-absorbed into the same corporate body, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service in October 2008.Scotland had its own organisation to support post-16 education.

I will write other pen portraits of organisations that supported and worked with colleges in the near future.

The Crucial Importance of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships and vocational education and training continue to appear on the political agenda but as so often occurs a number of policies are emanating from government that will impede their implementation. If the government is really committed to introducing a comprehensive high quality set of apprenticeship programmes then a totally new paradigm needs to be introduced with none of the historical apprenticeship practices. One crucial element in creating a more balanced economy with a revitalised and effective manufacturing base is a highly qualified workforce. This is where apprenticeships play a key role and they must become the top priority on the education and training agenda. I feel that if this is to become a reality the apprenticeship programmes must be preferentially treated in order to attract and retain participants. Apprenticeships along with technical and vocational education and training have been perceived for too long as second-class when compared with the supposed academic programmes such as GCSE/GCEs/Degrees. Employers must be at the centre of the development of apprenticeship programmes and their providers must not be exposed to inspection regimes currently operated by Ofsted as their model is inappropriate. However policy decisions already made by the government will undermine their introduction, effectiveness and the creation of a truly alternative career route to the so-called academic programmes. Some of these deterrent and destructive elements include:

(i)      The introduction of a loan regime for apprenticeship programmes

(ii)    The failure to fully recognise the practicalities that will confront employers if they are to lead the development and management of apprenticeships

(iii)   The failure to introduce a totally new paradigm in the operation and management of apprenticeships and once and for all disconnect them from the academic route; failure to introduce more appropriate inspections regimes for both employers and other providers of work based programmes. The latest example is the proposal to replace functional skill mathematics with GCSEs mathematics.

(iv)   The failure to introduce a comprehensive all-age IAG system and an extended awareness raising campaign in the media about the importance of apprenticeships.

(v) One aspect that specifically should not be introduced is a loan regime and yet that is exactly what the government has done, mirroring the model for HE students with all the attendant problems that has and will cause in the future. Apprentices aged over 24 starting on level 3 or 4 programmes can take out a loan for their tuition fees and the on-job training if the employer cannot or will not cover these costs. The apprentices will start paying back the loan when their income reaches £21,000 per annum.  Any loan scheme will most certainly deter people of all ages from enrolling on these programmes; quite rightly they will be reluctant to incur such debts. In particular the new Advanced and Higher-level apprenticeship programmes must encourage and attract committed and enthusiastic people who will include precisely those who would have already been deterred by the HE loan regimes. As a result of a very low take up (just 569 advanced learner loans taken up in nine months since their introduction) the government have said the policy was a mistake and intend to discontinue the loan system but so far nothing has happened. However if the loan regime ceases key questions need to be answered e.g. what will the funding mechanisms be for apprenticeships during the continuing period of austerity!

(vi)                The problem with placing employers at the centre of the apprenticeship programmes in the government’s current model is more associated with the feasibilities and practicalities that will confront employers – many employers do not possess the resources and administrative infra-structure necessary and at present are trying to ride out the financial crisis. If the government is serious they must support the employers with long term and sustainable strategies and funding and equally importantly recognise their problems. Also the current inspection regimes conducted by Ofsted are totally inappropriate for work based training e.g. making grades 1 and 2 as the chief criteria for accrediting training centres. Even the latest concessions about continuing to accredit providers who drop to grade 3 will still be subjected to additional conditions and monitoring. Many providers and employers are being deterred from getting involved with apprenticeship and other training programmes. Many employers being excluded have excellent networks with training providers and other employers, which is an essential feature for successful work based training.

(vii)               A classic example of the inability to divorce the apprenticement programme from the academic route is the intention to replace functional skills competence with GCSE mathematics and English. Functional skills reflected what work based students required and were therefore fit for purpose as they were delivered in real or realistic working environments and developed relevant applied skills as opposed to sterile classroom context exercises. If I were a gambling person I would put money on that functional skills will be dropped and GCSE maths will be put in their place – a crying shame!

(v111)              Equally important, as has been said many times, an effective system of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) has to be introduced which provides valid, honest broker ship and up to date data and information on the economic and business futures open to people of all ages. A recent CIPD survey highlighted again the inadequacies of IAG programmes and the lack of involvement of employers with schools and colleges. Survey findings showed that 58% of employers did not engage with schools and equally worrying 24% of employers interviewed had received no applications from 16-24 year olds for employment or apprenticeships again reflecting an information gap between education and the world of work.

One of the great fears I have about apprenticeships is that many employers will abuse the apprentices by giving them trivial tasks like making coffee, running messages and cleaning the toilets etc. Know doubt as the numbers of apprenticeships increases reports about abuse will appear! This sad state of affairs existed with many other work placed/experience and those operated under the Manpower Services Commission (MSC). The programmes must be relevant and enable the apprentice to gain meaningful skills and competences.