The go-to education publication TES announced on Twitter last week that it will no longer cover further education from September. No real reason was given and in stating that journalists had already been reallocated tasks, it was confirmed as a done deal.
There are other publications, of course, but writing for sector specific audiences only creates an echo chamber. TES is the esteemed establishment publication that reaches across sectors to a broader, knowledgeable and interested audience of professional associations, educators, politicians, parents and more.
There are serious consequences for the post-16 education sector. Further education, sixth form and technology colleges, prison, adult and community education will be literally swept out of scope; the lifelong learning sector precluded from academic and professional scrutiny.
Higher Education delivered through a further education context will be overlooked; vocational and technical degrees pushed out of the spotlight taken by perceived, superior academic qualifications.
The focus for TES will linger only on schools and universities. This combined with the government drive on academisation ensures a narrowing, non-pluralistic, marketised model of education; a trend advocated by the Tories since the 1980s, encouraging institutions to compete as businesses with an emphasis on customer and profit over learning.
Creating a barrier to Higher Education for many
TES will look the other way when the proposed reforms to Level 3 vocational qualifications come into effect next year. According to the Social Market Foundation, doing away with internationally-recognised BTEC qualifications in favour of technical T Levels will create a barrier to Higher Education for many from the working classes who benefit from this access route and also restrict work opportunities abroad.
With congruent long term cuts to adult education, it will become very difficult if not impossible for people to change their careers or upskill for future employment opportunities. Our young people now face a vocational future stuck in this country, unable to move up the ladder or out.
Little meaningful investment in Further Education
Further Education is, of course, education for the poor, the non-elite, the non-standardised, non-singular and of no interest to anyone who has been taught to aspire, aspire, aspire higher for more and so is devoid of meaningful investment.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported in November 2020 that further education and sixth form colleges had experienced the severest education funding cuts over the last decade with a 12% drop in real terms.
The effective pay freeze endured by educators across the post 16 sector has resulted in redundancy culls of expensive contracts and an exodus of experienced, qualified and gifted teachers; a talent drain to be replaced by an influx of people willing to accept reduced pay and diminished terms to ‘give teaching a go’.
Underfunding, downgrading and degrading
All these things are linked. They are not separate. Systematic underfunding, downgrading and degrading of further education combines systemically to deliver training not teaching as positioned in last year’s FE White Paper.
Delivering only skills ensures people aren’t taught to think. People who are not taught to critique, to evaluate, to think for themselves are easy to mould and pacify and less likely to resist imposition of austerity and limitations on human rights and voice.
This narrow understanding of skills for jobs ignores the findings of the 1919 Report on Education which recognised a changing future work landscape, promoting creative, flexible and critical thinking which the Centenary Commission on Adult Education affirmed was needed in combination with communication and collaboration skills, to provide a responsive and innovative workforce, best delivered through a broad-based education.
Clinical psychologist Julia Faulconbridge who represented the British Psychological Society on the coalition government’s task force on supporting mental health and wellbeing of young people said “There is a great deal to be learnt about the effectiveness of post 16 provisions for both individual learning and overall psychological development … this decision removes a key element of a holistic education system from coverage and can only be to its detriment”
The timing of the announcement
The timing of TES’s announcement is curious; in the middle of the summer when institutions and education trade unions are effectively mothballed and limiting a challenge to their decision. Why?
Education writer Melissa Benn said: “I am particularly puzzled this announcement came at a time when the government claims to be reforming, and revitalising, further education. Perhaps the TES knows something about the essential hollowness of the government’s plans that the rest of us have yet to discover?”
The clue might be in ‘establishment’ publication. Forewarning of a turned tin ear to deepening education cuts, rumoured to soon be announced, will support and uphold the status quo.
A profit to be made?
Benefitting from this strategic ignorance, TES’s Eton and Cambridge educated Director of Strategy and its CEO registered with Companies House as director of private training providers. TES itself also has an online training platform it charges for. There is a profit to be made for some from limiting free courses and forcing people to pay for additional development through a lack of real choice.
And herein lies the crux of it. Ideologically driven austerity measures where people are taught to do and not to think, creates a quasi feudal society, restoring a natural, patriarchal order with an elite and privileged few at the top and everybody else left behind, below.
You can watch Julia Faulconbridge and Melissa Benn speaking to the SEA in June on Living and Learning Well here.
Anya Cook is a trade union activist sitting on the Socialist Educational Association’s national executive and is their North Branch Chair (Acting). The original version of this article was published in the regional digital newspaper North East Bylines on Friday 13 August 2021.