Category Archives: Education

The Decline of Religious Education in British Schools

A recent OFSTED report – Religious Education: Realising the Potential – highlights the declining* provision and standards of R.E. in schools.

R.E, or Philosophy and Ethics as it is sometimes called, is just about the only subject where students are given the opportunity to learn about and discuss the beliefs held by students from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, gien the extent of cultural segregation in the U.K, these lessons may be the only opportunity children have to do this. There are also other benefits of PhE – such as encouraging students to think critically about ‘deep’ questions such as the nature of the self, death and dying, and the meaning of life in general. These lessons potentially provide a space in which students can develop both critical reasoning skills and pause for ‘deep reflective meditation’ (O.K. I know the later sounds unlikely – but trust me, it does occur in some schools!.

While recognising that the past 10 years have seen some improvements in RE in schools, evidence from the majority of schools visited for this survey shows that the subject’s potential is still not being realised fully, and notes the following, based on a sample of 90 schools.

Key findings

  • Weaknesses in provision for RE meant that too many pupils were leaving school with low levels of subject knowledge and understanding.
  • Achievement and teaching in RE in the 90 primary schools visited were less than good in six in 10 schools.
  • Most of the GCSE teaching seen failed to secure the core aim of the examination specifications: that is, to enable pupils ‘to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion’.
  • The provision made for GCSE in the majority of the secondary schools surveyed failed to provide enough curriculum time for pupils to extend and deepen their learning sufficiently.
  • The teaching of RE in primary schools was not good enough because of weaknesses in teachers’ understanding of the subject, a lack of emphasis on subject knowledge, poor and fragmented curriculum planning, very weak assessment, ineffective monitoring and teachers’ limited access to effective training.  The way in which RE was provided in many of the primary schools visited had the effect of isolating the subject from the rest of the curriculum.

Why the decline in Religious Education?

In a recent Radio 4 programme which discussed the report,  the folllowing reasons were given for the decline of Religious Education….

  1. Changes in the way school performance is measured means that R.E. has been marginalised (given fewer resources, been ‘understaffed’ and actually had the amount of hours spent on it cut down) – This is because i) R.E. does not make up part of the new Ebacc and ii) short courses, which is how R.E. used to be taught in many schools, no longer count towards league table position.
  2. Academisation – 50% of secondary schools are now academies, which are outside of local authority control, which is the body responsible for ensuring R.E. provision. These new academies have more freedom to make the changes in no.1 above.

All in all this is another depressing example of the negative consequences of Marketisation on education – In a bid to get ahead in the League Tables, schools narrow their curriculms, cutting out humanistic subejcts that aim to develop rounded human beings.

It’s also a good example of how instutions both act in an ‘individualised’ way and encourage individualisation – each school is isolated in the league tables and strives to get ahead of every other school. In order to so this it cuts out those subjects such as R.E. which may encourage genuine values of citizenship and responsibility, leaving schools which focus more and more around fostering individualised competitive students.

*When I say decline, I mean decline relative to other subjects!


C.V. building – another individualised ‘solution’ to systemic contradictions

As part of our college tutorial programme I was recently required to show my students this ‘monster guide to writing a C.V.’


I’ve been reading way to much Bauman recently to not subject this to some Baumanesque analysis, and from this perspective, writing a C.V. appears as a strategy for ‘middling people’ to avoid becoming ‘surplus people’ (or ‘waste’ to use another of Bauman’s terms).

A summary of the Advice in the Monster C.V. video with Baumanesque commentary

1. The purpose of the CV – ‘Your CV should tell a propsective employer why you’re the ideal canditate to invest time and money in….Essentially it’s a sale’s brochure, pinpointing the unique selling points which make you stand out from the crowd’

This is a nice illustration of how individuals have to turn themselves into commodoties, and market themselves. Bauman says in Consuming Life: ‘People today are…. ‘enticed, nudged or forced to promote an attractive and desirable commodity, and so to try as hard as they can, and using the best means at their disposal, to enhance the market value of the goods they sell. And the commodity they are prompted to put on the market, promote and sell are themselves. The activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice, necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing. The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities: that is, as products capable of catching the attention and attracting demand and customers’. (who in this case are the employers.)

2. The content of the C.V. – ‘Your contact details so a prospective employer can contact you immediately; a paragraph that captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you, but don’t cram this with too much information; a bullet-pointed list of your work experience and qualifications so that an employer can match your skills to those of the job specification; your ‘key skills’ such as IT packages you’ve used, and the level you’ve achieved.’

This is a supreme example of the process of Individualisation – In Liquid Modernity, Bauman defines the process of Individualisation as follows…. how one lives today becomes a biographical solution to system contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised. He goes on to say that we…. ‘are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems ….. gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P) but it is put upon us to look to ourselves.’

3. A final word of warning – ‘Spelling and typographical erroz (lol!) – any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out weaker candidates.’

The above two process go on in a culture of fear and anxiety – To quote Bauman (LM) ‘The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how I can improve myself.’ In another section of LM – ‘Individualisation consists of charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.’ – If we fail in this system it is because of our poor spelling

Of course what the C.V. doesn’t remind us of are the systemic contradictions that make C.V. writing a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game of climbing the career ladder…

For such a reminder, we can again turn to Bauman – who reminds us that society is still ‘obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… but in its liquid modern phase the drive to privatisation and deregualation have lead to even more phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing and dismantling’…. Today Capital moves from place to place, enterprise to enterprise, quicker than ever, and this means that capital is freer than ever to pick and choose its labour force from any part of the world…. which means decreasing job security and increasing competition, which sets the context for the necessity of constructing a ‘C.V, and career-biography’ (a cviography?) – A C.V. becomes a necessity to achieve a decent job.

Furthermore, something which the video fails to mention … ‘The New Capitalism has a strong preference among employers for free-floating, unattached, flexible, ‘generalist’ and ultimately disposable employees’ – this means that that C.V. you’ve just spent the last two weeks ‘perfecting’ isn’t perfect, it’ll be out of date by this time next year and will need updating!

However, as Bauman says in ‘Liquid Modern Challenges to Education’ the C.V. and the educational history it summarises are no guarantee of a good a job:

‘Nothing has prepared them for the arrival of the hard, uninviting and inhospitable new world of downgrading of grades, devaluation of earned merits, doors shown and locked, volatility of jobs and stubbornness of joblessness, transience of prospects and durability of defeats; of a new world of stillborn projects and frustrated hopes and of chances ever more conspicuous by their absence. Today, the throngs of the seduced are turning wholesale, and almost overnight, into the crowds of the frustrated.

For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad-hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time jobs, unpaid “trainee” pseudo-jobs deceitfully re-branded “practices” − all considerably below their acquired skills and eons below the level of their expectations; or of a stretch of unemployment lasting longer than it’ll take for the next class of graduates to add their names to the already uncannily long job-centres waiting lists.’

Of course a sixth form college like mine would never subject its students to this type of analysis… that would just kill aspiration. Instead of wasting time pondering this fruitless line of analysis further, students are advised to dismiss immediately any thoughts that there may be any grain of truth in such an analysis.

Instead , you are advised to go engage in voluntary work, do D of E, learn the saxophone take up gymnastics, set up a debating society, establish your own mini-enterprise (make sure it’s a good one!), learn Greek, brush up on your IT skills, read all of the major works of English Literature written between 1831 and 1869, and basically work 26 hours a day to make sure you get 4 A*s… Well go on then, get going.. it’s ALL DOWN TO YOU!

Social Class Inequality Visualisations

I had my classes exploring one of my ‘favourite’ topics today – The extent of and explanations for inequalities in life chances by social class, gender and ethnicity – Here a few visual updates and links which highlight the extent of class inequality in the UK today…

1. In Education… 3 year olds from the richest fifth of households are twice as likely to be ‘school ready’ than 3 year olds from the poorest fifth of households


2, by health – This is a nice, if dated article which reminds us that Based on 2007-2009 mortality rates, a man aged 65 could expect to live another 17.6 years and a woman aged 65 another 20.2 years. This graphic demonstrates that men and women from routine manual backgrounds are twice as likely to die before the age of 64 than those from professional backgrounds(my title is clearer than that in the picture!)



3. The chances of being a victim of violent crime (available from the ONS and the Home Office Annual crime stats reports)


4. Births outside of wedlock (not that I think the decline in marriage is a bad thing!, unlike the author of the post where I got the info!

The chart below shows the proportion of kids who are born outside marriage by social class in Britain. Its quite a short period of time, but you get the general idea. At the top, things haven’t changed much. At the bottom, having children inside marriage is not the norm, and increasingly rare.



More Sources to follow…


Does Britain really have some of the highest paid teachers in the world?

According this article in the Torygraph – Britain has some of the highest paid teachers in the world.

To cite from the article, which draws on OECD data:

“Primary school teachers in England are among the youngest in the world but they still earn almost £4,000 more on average than their counterparts across the rest of the OECD.

The average salary for a primary teacher in the OECD countries was £24,690 in 2011, compared to £28,660 in England.

However, according to the think-tank’s latest study of education, teachers in English primary schools spent less time in class than their peers elsewhere.

The report found England’s primary teachers delivered 684 hours of lessons in 2011, significantly below the OECD average of 786 hours.”

No doubt Michael Gove will use this as part of his future agenda to cut teacher’s wages further (Let’s face it, it’s coming). In order to make his case he will have  to use this data uncrtically and without looking at the wider context of these figures, because if you do dig deeper (and this took me about 2 minutes), you come across these statistics –

“England has some of the highest class sizes in the developed world, beaten only by Mexico and Turkey, with an average of 26.1. That is a ratio of 19.8 students per teacher, compared to an OECD average of 15.7.” – This is from the Guardian – Depressingly, drawn from the same data as used in Torygraph article, which might lead anyone with a brain to think that this is an example of the Torygraph deliberately using data selectively for political ends.

In addition, neither of these articles mention explicitly that teachers in Britain may  have a tougher time than in other countries because they are dealing with higher levels of deprivation (we are one of the most unequal socities in Europe), having to meet the needs of learners from a diverse array of backgrouds (London is the most diverse city on earth), and having to cope with a test-obsessed marketised system, now resided over by a megalomaniac intent on bending the system to his own narrow minded personal agenda. (That would be Michael Gove btw).

Another problem with the article is its suggestion that ‘the fact that teachers on average are much younger in Britain than elsewhere makes the fact that they are paid so much even less justifiable’ – In reality a better interpretation might be – ‘teaching in Britain is especially demanding and thus relatively well paid. The fact that it is so demanding is the reason why teaching careers are relatively short and teachers are much younger in Britain than elsewhere.’

All in all I think UK teachers’ higher salaries are justified and that the Torygraph is best ignored.

20 teenagers sitting in a room

This isn’t a particularly informative post, more of a spontaneous expression of an epiphany moment (although one without the elation).

The epiphany comes in the form of a question – Is there any worse way of getting teenagers to concentrate than sitting them in a room with 19 other teenagers and one adult for four and a half hours a day?

I mean I know the typical day at school or college, for most kids at least, will be broken up with more active lessons such as sport and music, but the standard model is 20 teenagers in a room with one adult.

This just seems ridiculous – Assuming an hour and half lesson, it’s too large a number for the teacher to engage with one on one in any meaningful way, it’s too many for everyone to have a meaningful input into a ‘whole class discussion’, so teachers are left reverting to either individual work where not everyone gets monitored, or pair/ group work where some students inevitably lose focus, and if you are going to go against ‘fairyland Ofsted’s’ advice, and do the dreaded lecture – well 20 is an equally pointless number, you may as well film it and stream it to 20 000.

The days of 20 teenagers sitting in a classroom must surely come to and end soon? Surely it’s possible for schools and especially colleges to be a little more creative with teaching arrangements – A combination of online lectures and independent learning combined with more intense, tailored, smaller group sessions and occasional one on one meetings with students where they spend less time sitting in class, but where they get more focused attention and thus more focused working when they are in lessons …. Maybe>?

A related question is where did the educational norm of ’20 teenagers sitting in a room’m actually come from anyway, and how did it evolve? Answers in comments please.

So if my Beacon ‘best 6th form college’ in the country doesn’t actually innovate like it’s supposed to, perhaps I’ll forge this path at the institutional level,  perhaps one day, a year or so before I quit in case it all goes pear shaped, I’ll break all the rules and just do this anyway.


Twitter as a revision tool in ten tweets

–      Twitter as an educational tool in ten tweets –

I’m getting my students used to using twitter as an educational tool this week. I’ll be getting them work through the following questions. I’m doing this with my A2 Global Development other educators should be able to modify this for their own subjects…

Initial steps

  • Set up a dedicated sociology twitter account if you haven’t already done so
  • Follow all the other students who follow me – NB – check later who I follow too, as I will be following people as they join!

Twitter as an educational tool in ten tweets –

Work your way through these – these are ten ways you (we) can use twitter as an educational tool. This focuses on recent Development work (the SCLY3 module)

Tweet 1 – Define one of the following terms in 146 characters – #Patriarchy #Globalisation or #Urbanisation – start the tweet #concept – (then define it)

Tweet 2 – Retweet the versions of the definition you think are the best

  • Now ‘Favourite’ the ones you like in order to note them down later.

Tweet 3 – Tweet one advantage of using #NGOAID over ODA aid – put #NGOAID at the beginning of the tweet.

Tweet 4 – Review other tweets that answer to 1 and 3 (NB there may still be some definitions coming in) and comment on one you think particularly good by replying to someone using @theirusername.

Tweet 5 – Tweet about the most obscure/ advanced thing you talked about in your essay on gender and development. Put #genderessay at the beginning of the tweet.

  • Review the tweets on gender – add in any ideas you missed to your essay.

Tweet 6 – Use the @ function to reply to someone and ask how they used the concepts/ case studies they talked about – you will be getting a ‘twitter conversation going about essay planning – which can continue on the train ride home. (Obviously if you get an @question your next tweet may be replying)

Tweet 7 – Either find something on line relevant to global development or find a good revision site and tweet us the link – with a brief summary of what it’s about

Tweet 8 – Possibly the simplest usage – tweet a question about something you have found slightly obscure or difficult to understand – Use the #SCLY3 if the question is about that, or if you’re resitting use #SCLY4

Tweet 9 Find another sociology source on twitter to follow – recommend them to the rest of us using #FF

Tweet 10 – Tweet how useful you find this as a revision tool

Do schools make a difference?

An excellent podcast from BBC Radio 4’s Analysis on the above topic should be compulsory listening/ reading for anyone studying the Sociology of Education – you can get both the audio version and the transcript here

The programme centres on Harvey Goldstein’s statistical research – who points out that once you take into account children’s social and economic backgrounds (their home backgrounds if you like) schools only account for 10% of the difference in a child’s educational achievement.

Although she didn’t say it when Labour was in power, on reflection, New Labour’s Education Secretary in the late 1990s, Estelle Morris, now consents that although ‘schools are all we’ve got’ they ‘can never make up for the social disadvantage that children from poor backgrounds and from disinterested families’ – late on in the programme we are reminded that only 1% of children going to Oxbridge are Free School Meal students.

So why is it that government ministers put so much faith in the potential of schools to transform students’ lives?

The programme traces this back to one study conducted in 1979 by Peter Mortimore, one of the principle researches on the “15,000 hours” study – in which the researchers did observations of good and bad schools and identified all of the features that good schools had (good being defined as those which got students good results) – These features were –

  • Good teacher support
  • A clean environment
  • Good behaviour
  • Pupils felt like they were valued

This in turn lead into a new field of study centring around the question of ‘what works’ in education – which lead to researchers being dispatched to discover what successful schools were doing – and later this lead onto the question of how we could design these success features of ‘good schools’ into all schools. The programme draws on Pam Sammons Professor at Oxford University who seems to favour this approach.

Going back to Goldstein, he criticises the work of Sammons and the like by pointing out that the features found in good schools may just be coincidental to success – the schools may have good behaviour, the environment may be clean and money might be available for teacher support precisely because these schools have pupils who are from middle class backgrounds, and this may not be repeatable in all schools around the country.

This, however, is not the view Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief inspector of schools (Head of OFSTED), famed for his headship of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, one of the most deprived areas of London – this was Labour’s flagship academy which replaced the old failing Hackney Downs schools. Wilshaw claims that, through a combination of strict discipline, very long teacher and student hours and a ‘no excuses culture’ you can improve results in any school – he certainly did in Mossbourne – last year 8 students made it to Oxbridge, way above the national average.

What he forgets to mention of course is that he also had the help of a cool £25 million cash injection for a new building, and then there’s the little matter of his new Academy having almost half the population of FSM children attending as were at Hackney Downs.

As a final note – the programme does an excellent job of flagging up how successive governments selectively ignore research that doesn’t fit in with their own political agendas. The stats suggest social class and ethnic background matters and than schools only make 10% difference, and this is ignored, you then find some statistically dubious research from 1979 and one case study from recent history and use this to show that schools can make a difference…..




With 450 000 apprenticeship starts last year – Is Unemployment really going down?

You may have noticed the latest headline figures on unemployment –  which, according to the ONS,  declined by 35,000 in the three months to March to 2.65 million.

The Guardian article above also points out that youth unemployment also declined slightly, by 9,000 in the three months to February, leaving a total of 1.03 million 16- to 24-year-olds looking for work. The unemployment rate for this age group was 22.2%, down from 22.3% three months earlier.

Howeverthings may not be as rosy as you think, and if you delve, you notice that these headline figures mark a much bleaker picture of employment in the UK.

The government’s definition of unemployment, which comes from The International Labour Organisation (ILO) – an agency of the United Nations is broader than that of the ‘claimant count’ –  According to their definition 

Unemployed people are those

• Without a job, want a job, have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks and are available to  start work in the next 2 weeks, or 
• Out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks.

(This is the important bit) In general, anybody who carries out at least one hour’s paid work in a week, or who is temporarily away from a job (e.g. on holiday) is in employment. Also counted as in employment are people on government-supported training schemes and people who do unpaid work for their family’ business.

Technically, this means that, yes unemployment maybe falling, but we need to look at the quality of jobs that are being created – and the picture here is not so good – Consider the following two facts –

(1) – As Polly Toynbe  points out, Examine the ONS figures and you find full-time jobs did not increase: they fell by 27,000. All the increase was in part-time jobs for men. There are now 1.4 million part-timers desperately seeking but failing to find longer hours.  

This ties in with findings from the JRF foundation which suggest that Underemployment – people who are ‘unemployed, lacking but wanting work or working part-time because no full time job was available’ is now stands at 6 million, or 2 million higher than in 2004.

Secondly, many new jobs may well be New Apprenticeships – A staggering 450000  of which have started in the last year – and Many of these are not actually real jobs at all – In some cases they pay less than the minimum wage – This under-reported phenomenon is actually worthy of a separate blog post – shortly!)

So, yes, formally, the unemployment figures may be going down, but the types of ’employment’ people are going into are temporary training positions and part-time temporary work – and in both cases wages tend to be low and positions insecure. Yes, unemployment is going down, but the quality of life for those going into employment is also decreasing.

Differential Educational Achievement by Ethnicity – The Role of Cultural Factors

Teaching this topic this week – thought I’d share a web – based lesson I put together… For A level, and general interest…

Results statistics

Resources looking at Home Based/ Cultural Factors – Read/ Watch the items below and answer the questions in the boxes provided

Focussing on Chinese Achievement

  • Britain’s Tiger Mums – (college stream link) – watch this and note down all of the reasons why British Chinese children might do so well in school. If your outside of college this was part of More 4s ‘Wonderland’ series (2011 or 2012)
  • Read this article on Amy Chua – one of the world’s severest ‘Tiger Mums’ (She’s American) – ‘on the benefits of burning your child’s stuffed animals’ – Is her severe approach justified?
  • NB – If you think Amy Chua is severe – check out this style of ‘Eagle Dad’ parenting (NB – not UK based!)
  • Question – There are 300 000 Chinese families in the UK – how could you find out if the above case studies are generaliseable?

 Focussing on Gypsy and Roma Achievement

  • Watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (college stream link – the first 10 mins and then roughly 53 to the end) – note down all of the factors that might explain why only 8% of Gypsy/ Roma children achieve good GCSEs (if you’re outside of college I’m sure you can find a link to this now classic show Channel 4 show somewhere online!)
  • You may have seen this – horse outside videoQuestion – Is this racist?
  • There is some good research here – from the Gypsy Roma Traveller site (Leeds based) – see if you can find any reasons why this group might underachieve…

 Focussing on Black-Caribbean Achievement

  • Watch this video – discussing the UK riots of August 2011 – They don’t actually say it (in a shameless example of political correctness!) but they are really talking about ‘black parents’ – note down all of the things that might explain Caribbean underachievement
  • Read this article which reinforces that above and demonstrates that the issue of ‘absent black fathers ’ is on the political agenda – Do you think Cameron is right to be worried about ‘absent black fathers’?
  • Read this article by Tony Sewell – who argues that Caribbean boys underachieve because of out of school factors   – Summarise all of the factors he lists that explain Caribbean underachievement
  • The fatherhood institute is also concerned about the absent black fathers – read this item and note down some of the reasons why Cameron might be wrong to just blame ‘absent dads’ for Caribbean underachievement


Sweet 17s face a sour future….

Believe it or not, I actually remember being 17 quite well – In between the bits where I generally revelled in my own wonderfulness, it mainly involved a lot of ‘misplaced youthful aspiration’ about my potential for doing great and wonderful things such as ‘travelling the world, astrally visiting other planets, joining Ashrams in India,  sticking it to the man, smashing the system and generally ushering in utopia through the sheer force of youthful enthusiasm.

Having achieved precisely none of these goals – ten years down the line I ended up with a job – teaching Sociology – part of which (the tutor bit) involves assisting today’s 17 year olds to get a job once they’ve finished with their ‘educational transition’ period.

This is somewhat ironic – firstly because the Sociology bit of my job involves telling 17 year olds how crap work actually is and how little chance they’ve got of getting a decent one, secondly because when I was 17, getting a job wasn’t exactly high on my aspiration list, and thirdly, given today’s job market, I think the average 17-18 year old might actually have more of a chance of achieving all of my original teen-dreams than gaining employment – at least if we’re talking about  formal, secure, and worthwhile employment that actually pays you enough to achieve a decent standard of living.

Now I hate to be a kill-joy (actually I love it – the more miserable I can make people, the happier I am), but I’ve got some pretty bleak news for any 17 year old looking forwards to their life after college –

For starters, for any 17-18 year old keenly looking to transition from education to work- if you look at Statistics from the department of education you discover that being 18 years of age hardly signifies the end of your education. According to the latest stats, of all 18 year old in the UK –

  • 30% were in Higher Education
  • 22% were doing some form of course or training in Further Education (FE).
  • 33% were in paid employment, with one third in jobs with training and two thirds in jobs without training 22%. 6% of training positions take the form of ‘modern apprenticeships’ and the most common area of employment for both males and female 18 year olds was ‘Wholesale and Retail Trade; Repair of Motor Vehicles and Motorcycles’
  • 15% were NEET

This effectively means that 80% of 18 year olds are currently in a state of education or welfare dependency, and only 20% are in ‘straight-up jobs’. In fact, you’ve almost got as much chance of being NEET as you have of just getting a regular job without training.

Moreover, many of the 20% who are ‘independent earners’ earn so little that this wage-independence cannot effectively be translated into any other meaningful form of independence, with 2/3rds of workers aged 18 earning the £6.00 an hour or less. According to the Youth Cohort Study (2009) which looks at what young people were doing aged 18 –

‘A total of 56% of 18 year olds were earning a wage at the time of interview either through their main activity or through part-time work to accompany full-time studies’. Wages, however, are low, with 63% of 18 year olds in employment earning £6.00 an hour or less, rising to 77% for those on Apprenticeships’ – Suggesting that many employers take advantage of the opportunity to pay young people relatively lower wages where possible.

These figures are in line with government guidance – The Current minimum wage for someone aged between 16 -17 is just £3.68, unless you’re unfortunate enough to have ‘landed’ an apprenticeship, in which case you might be earning as little as £2.60 an hour. This compares to £4.98 – the 18-20 rate, or £6.08 for the over 21s)

To put it in stark terms – if you go straight to work from college – you can expect an immediate future of several years of low wages, with the prospect of yet more work-based training until you start earning anything like a decent salary.


Life at the bottom, is of course, generally worse – and the stats seem to suggest your chances of ending up NEET increase as you get older – At the end of 2010, only 2.3 per cent of 16-year-olds, were NEET, compared to 6.8 per cent of 17-year-olds and 12.4 per cent of 18-year-olds. For most young people, being NEET is a temporary outcome as they move between different education and training options – surveys estimate that only 1 per cent of young people are NEET at ages 16, 17 and 18.

However, as you get older and your ‘educational opportunities’ dry up, the NEET figures increase dramatically, with the latest ONS data revealing that a total of 22.2%, or 1.04 million 16 to 24-year-olds were out of work in the three months to December 2011.

This excellent blog post on the Stumbling and Mumbling blog outlines some of the long term costs of youth unemployment – the starkest of which is that those who have been unemployed for more than six months before the age of 23 earned an average of 7% less than others even at the age of 42; this controls for educational qualifications.

If you can stomach three further years of studying, relative poverty and £30 000 of debt – you are much better off going to university…. You stand to earn about £600 000 more over the course of a 45 year career compared to those who stick with just A levels, and have twice as much chance of being in employment by age 24 compared to those with just GCSEs – although don’t expect to get a job immediately after graduating, as the graduate unemployment rate in the months following graduation currently stands at 25%.

Incidentally, just to depress you further, it’s worth adding that many young people’s life chances are further reduced by high housing costs according to this research by Shelter – some of the main findings include

* At a time when young people are facing extreme difficulties in finding jobs, high housing costs are affecting the ability of one in four 18-34 year olds to move for work, hampering economic recovery.

* Twenty-two per cent of 18-34 year olds have been forced to move back in or continue living with their parents because they are unable to afford to rent or buy their own home.

*Twenty per cent of this age group are delaying having children until they can afford to buy or rent their own home.

* Almost a third (31 per cent) of 18-34 year olds have had to continue living with a partner because they could not afford to live apart, or know someone in the same situation

So to any 17 year olds out there anticipating dreams of independence and material success in the immediate future, dream on….. for most of you, that goal is years away yet.

Having said this, please note that your life-chances do vary considerably depending on your social class and ethnic background – but more of that later.