In November 2011 I read this Daily Mail essay by A.N. Wilson about the state of the employment prospects for Britain’s working classes. Wilson believed that Britain does not have a working-class anymore because of endless social mobility and engineering policies by successive governments have changed the character of the classes of Britain. In comparison to our European neighbours in Germany, France, Spain, Czech, Italy and Romania have low unemployment problems because their people are skilled in useful and valuable trades and abilities. They didn’t compromise the integrity of their class structure like how we did over the last 60 years.
Recently Boris Johnson made this speech to the press about changing the overall structure of the education and employment sector. What he had in mind was to change the system so that it values technical education and vocational jobs on the same level as academia similar to how Germany trains it’s young to be economically useful. So it looks like we will be going through a steady but gradual change in how we appreciate and value our workforce and their technical expertise. Which is great for me because I consider myself to be a boffin and a builder. I like to study, but I also like to make things with my own hands.
This revolution may be the most practical change in our country’s economic, education and social sector for generations. It may also be the energy and determination that will build Brexit Britain to a higher standard than our European counterparts. I won’t go into too much detail here, as if to repeat Wilson’s article but how did we end up like this low skilled nation with a social snobbery of builders and lower classes and debt trapped graduates without jobs in the first place?
One of the architects of this was an overbearing and condescending education secretary called Anthony Crossland. In 1965 he started a systematic destruction of the centuries old secondary moderns and grammar schools, replacing them with the comprehensives. At this point in time Britain was in the midst of a modernisation craze in science, art, music, culture, architecture and cuisine. Education was one of them and my university was one of those creations. Crossland was so determined to enforce the comprehensive on Britain’s councils that he was quoted as saying ‘If it’s the last thing I do,’ he gleefully told his wife, ‘I’m going to destroy every f*****g grammar school in England.’
This arrogant man of strong words looks like the kind of social eugenics tyrants that I challenge in my autism advocacy. At the time it was a status quo that your schooling determined what kind of job prospects you would have and Crossland wanted to change that narrative so that everyone would be elevated to higher paid jobs and reached the kind of opportunities their parents dreamed off. Instead, it led to systematic destruction of the working classes and a new form of snobbery towards ordinary people. That generation used to believe that if you gave everyone of all classes the same access to all levels of education then people from all walks of life would excel to a high standard of living, with high earning potential following suit. But that hasn’t happened that way.
As a struggling graduate myself I have looked at the career options a degree can have long before I started my course. As I did my studies at the Open University I looked at the destinations that graduates of different subjects have gone. The results were incredibly mismatched. According to career surveys over 70% of graduates are in jobs that are not related to the subject of their studies. The social engineers may have helped open access to higher education for all, but the job market does not have the demand of the graduates for certain positions.
Consider the sciences. Physics graduates have a low expectation of employment in a science job. Only 6% percent of them work in science, the highest field of work they work in is business, HR and finance that amounts to 20% of physics graduates. Biology graduates have only managed to achieve employment in science by 8%, most of them are working in retail and catering (19%) and other professional roles (20%). Chemistry graduates have managed to get it better as 16% of them work as technicians and other professionals and 17% as scientists. The full list of what graduates do can be found here.
There are also several other factors that complicate the picture. When Tony Blair was prime minister he set a target that around 50% of school leavers would go to university. Even though that was a good goal, it was built on unfair terms that would entrap students into debt. To encourage them to go university, the government ministers and the education sector made it harder for pupils to get onto the job market. Setting endless red tape and regulations for employers to accept employees on higher qualifications that were not even really needed. It was like trying to upgrade a toilet cleaner’s intelligence by making sure that to clean out u-bends you most have a doctorate in toilet cleaning. Pushing for too many graduates also ruined things as well. By increasing the number of graduates, the market was saturated with so many job seekers that there were now 250,000 graduates chasing around 10,000 jobs related to their subjects.
This in part explains why we had an increase in immigration from Europe taking over a majority of working class jobs like Polish plumbers, Romanian cleaners, Spanish waiters, and French baristas. I had left school at this time and I was looking for work myself and some of my relatives blamed the immigrants for taking the jobs that I could take. Rather than join in this cursing of immigration I decided to educate myself and see what it was that they had that was beating me to the job market. The results of my research revealed something very interesting about them that explained why British education and it’s job’s market was so bad.
First of all lets have a general over view of the changes in British education over the years. First we got rid of the grammar schools and secondary moderns to replace them with the comprehensives, then we got rid of the O levels and GCEs and replaced them with the one size fits all GCSE, making our schooling more about knowledge intensive studying instead of useful vocational skills. Then we changed the labelling of universities abandoning the polytechnics with third class universities and also dumbing down the content so that pupils didn’t have to do any mental or creative thinking techniques. It’s a really harmonised concept that has compromised our education in so many ways.
But what of the European education. Have they done such a thing to theirs. No they haven’t. In fact they have kept the old system and just updated it to accommodate modern values. Instead of comprehensives they have a middle school that you attend for three years and then you go into either a technical school to train for a vocation or go into a grammar school for a university career. They also do not care for social engineering as much as we do. They value useful and practical abilities over knowledge obsessed schooling. Whereas British kids are taught to master algebra and literary pieces and have to extend their education until they find a job, Polish kids are taught the basics of useful domestic skills like plumbing and secretarial book keeping that they can go into work straight from school. This explains such a low youth unemployment rate in Poland, Germany, France and Italy.
Changes in culture and society have also played a part in undermining our work ethic. It used to be that we valued workers from all walks of life doing their part to make the country healthy and happy. Now we look down and act snobbishly to jobs that require working with our hands. McDonalds workers are now seen as welfare handout dependants and people that work in the trades like scaffolding are stupid. That is not true, all forms of labour require a basic level of intelligence and competence. If a baker was stupid then he wouldn’t be able to operate an oven or mix ingredients to make batter for the bread.
It should also be pointed out that some of these countries have got different social norms that is reflected in their work ethic. They expect their children to contribute to their household income when they are old enough to work. Working local weekend jobs or evenings to earn some money on the side for themselves and teaching them the basics of looking after themselves like doing their own cooking and cleaning. Now contrast that to many British kids where their parents expect them to make the most of their freedoms. There used to be a time when paper rounds were the daily income activity of school children, these days newsagents struggle to recruit kids because their parents refuse to let them work. There are plenty of aspirational and influential kids willing to pursue their ambitions, but they are being undermined by an education system that does not value their credibility unless they do well academically.
It’s a long held belief that the well educated you are, the higher your job prospects are likely to be. That is not entirely true. History tells us that every sector of the labour market has been effected by technological developments, social changes, political actions, and alternative economic policies. If you got a university degree and worked in a bank in 1965, that bank could be changing it’s policies in 20 years time to make room for non-degree holders that could leave you out of a job. If you worked as a farmhand in rural Yorkshire driving tractors in 1979, you could find yourself challenged in 10 years because your rival farm has invested in using a combine harvester alongside his tractors. So it’s better to have a different set of skills ready for another job later in life instead of overeducating yourself too young in life. It’s now time to embrace technical education again for retraining us for a changing nation.
I’ll leave this post with a message from this retired school teacher on Question Time from 2018 who sees through all the mess that social libertarians have done to schooling that needs to be reversed. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1917523538261362