Tag Archives: numeracy

Workplace battleground: Labour and Tories at war over employment

cameronmaths

Labour is forging forward with new plans to improve work prospects and the skills of those seeking employment, while the Conservatives are plunging backward with proposals to penalise people who lack the ability to speak basic English.

Already right-wingers in the media have been trying to undermine the policies announced by Rachel Reeves in a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research. They say Labour is planning to strip people of their benefits if they don’t take classes to improve their English and Maths skills, if necessary.

This talk of punishment for people who need help is completely wrong-headed. If someone can’t get a job because they can’t read, write or do their sums, then they should get help. Of course they should.

One has to wonder what has gone wrong in our schools, to lead to this situation. Perhaps Michael Gove would like to take responsibility? No, didn’t think so.

In fact, the plans announced by the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary are perfectly reasonable – especially in contrast with the latest Tory madness, but we’ll come to that soon enough.

We already know that the centrepiece of Labour’s economic plan is a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed.

This means anyone over 25 who has been receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance for two years or more, and anyone under that age who has been receiving the same benefit for one year or more would get a guaranteed job, paying at least the minimum wage, for 25 hours a week – coupled with training for at least a further 10 hours a week.

This is perfectly reasonable. If you have been looking for work for more than a year, and couldn’t get it yourself, then the extra income provided by such a placement (especially coming in line with Labour’s plan to increase wages, in order to really make work pay, rather than depressing benefits and putting everyone in poverty, which is Conservative policy) will be welcome.

It doesn’t mean that people will have to put their own ambitions on hold. The best advice I ever received was to get a paying job during the day, in order to put food on the table and clothes on my back, and work on what I really wanted to do in the evenings. Eventually, with perseverance, it should be possible to replace the day job with what you really want to do.

Most of the jobs are likely to be in small firms where, once a company has invested six months in a new recruit, the chances are they will want to keep them on after the subsidy has ended.

The jobs guarantee would be fully funded by repeating the tax on bankers bonuses – they were in the news recently, when it was announced that these people would be receiving unearned bonuses worth twice as much as their salary so they’ve definitely got the cash to spare – and a restriction on pension tax relief for those on the very highest incomes.

But – of course – putting people into a job isn’t much good if they don’t have the knowledge of English and Maths that most of us use without thinking in our everyday lives.

In her speech, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said: “The shocking levels of English and maths among too many jobseekers are holding them back from getting work, and trapping them in a vicious cycle between low paid work and benefits.

“Nearly one in 10 people claiming JSA don’t have basic English skills, and over one in ten don’t have basic maths. IT skills among jobseekers are even worse; nearly half don’t have the basic email skills which are now essential for almost any job application.

“And we know that this keeps people out of jobs: those out of work are twice as likely than those in work to lack basic English and Maths,” she said, proving that her own lack in that area hasn’t held her back. Twice as likely as those in work, Rachel.

She said research has shown that, when people who lack these skills do get jobs, they too often find themselves in short term or temporary work, with a swift return to benefits. Nearly one in five of those who have made multiple claims for unemployment benefits have problems with reading or numeracy.

The response: “A new requirement [will be] for jobseekers to take training if they do not meet basic standards of maths, English and IT – training they will be required to take up alongside their jobsearch, or lose their benefits.

“[We] will ensure that people’s skills needs are assessed, and basic skills gaps addressed, from the start of a Jobseeker’s Allowance Claim, not after months and years of neglect.”

Contrast this with the Conservative Party’s latest plan to hammer immigrants and people on benefits – announcing a new policy of repression every week ahead of the election in 2015, according to politics.co.uk

It seems right-wing Australian election chief, and tobacco lobbyist, Lynton Crosby thinks this kind of bully-boy behaviour will make the Tories more popular! Don’t laugh.

This comes after satirical radio comedy The Now Show featured a sketch in which people tried to justify xenophobic attitudes without saying the words “I’m not racist, but…”

Let’s try the reverse – putting those words into the new policies announced on politics.co.uk:

“I’m not racist, but we should strip benefits from anyone who can’t speak English!” (Does this include the English people who can’t speak their own language properly, who Labour plan to help?)

“I’m not racist, but we should axe the service telling people about benefits in foreign languages!”

“I’m not racist, but we should end translation services in benefits offices!” (According to politics.co.uk, David Cameron is very keen on that one).

The site said “Iain Duncan Smith is understood to already be working on them”. (He’s not racist, but…)

Tory backbencher and former scandal Liam Fox tried to justify this lunacy by saying: “The ability to speak English is one of the most empowering tools in the labour market and we should be encouraging as many people as possible to learn it.” By cutting off their income? How does that work?

Plans to focus on the government’s increasingly racist tough anti-immigrant message come despite warnings that a reduction in immigration would make it harder for Britain to pay back its national debt.

The site said that, last week, a long-awaited report into benefit tourism had to be shelved in secret, after failing to find any evidence of it.

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Never mind literacy and numeracy, Mr Gove – let’s have a bit less duplicity

Speaking with a forked tongue: The Education Secretary appears to have been exposed pushing double-standards into the school system. [Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire]

Speaking with a forked tongue: The Education Secretary appears to have been exposed pushing double-standards into the school system. [Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire]

The Department for Education has been parading the success of “more demanding” rules for teacher trainees – less than 10 days after swearing blind that people did not need to have any qualifications at all.

According to Michael Gove’s Department for Education, “new figures show that changes to toughen up the skills tests taken by prospective teachers have raised the quality of those entering the teaching profession”.

The rules, introduced in September 2012, mean “only high-quality candidates with good levels of literacy and numeracy go on to train to be teachers. This will raise standards in schools,” a DfE spokesperson said.

The press release states that 98 per cent of candidates in the 2011-12 academic year passed skills tests in both literacy and numeracy, meaning they could progress to qualified teacher status – but after the new rules came in, the proportion of passes dropped to 88 per cent – and this after three attempts.

The remaining 12 per cent did not pass both skills tests, including almost three per cent who failed three times and may not progress to teacher training for at least two years.

This is, in fact very good news for school pupils. Yr Obdt Srvt is the son of a teacher and has been well aware of a drop in standards over the last 20 or 30 years – probably since Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary.

There was a big effort to get unemployed people to train as teachers and it was around that time that literacy went out the classroom window, with teachers being permitted to ignore spelling mistakes in pupils’ work (or at least, that’s how it seemed). Numeracy nosedived with an over-reliance on pocket calculators or other such mechanical devices, rather than exercising youngsters’ brains.

That’s not to say that all teachers gave up on their subjects, of course. Teaching is not just a job; for most of the profession it is a vocation – what they were born to do – and many of them carry out their duties with exceptional ability, passion and, let’s not beat around the bush, flair.

But we have also seen the results of lacklustre teaching. Running a blog, one tends to read an appalling amount of bad English in the comments that are submitted. They can’t all be ascribed to difficulties that are particular to the person writing the comment – some are certainly the result of indifferent schooling.

And we see it in the real world as well. People who are perfectly capable of expressing themselves verbally in clear, cogent ways collapse completely when asked to put it in writing.

So the announcement is to be welcomed.

The problem is that it comes hot on the heels of a huge controversy over the quality of teaching in Michael Gove’s pet project, the ‘Free Schools’ system.

Vox Political reported on October 20 that the Al-Madinah Free School, serving 400 Muslim pupils in Derby, received the lowest marks possible from inspectors – in every category. Inspectors railed against the fact that teachers were not trained. Two unqualified head teachers also quit jobs at other free schools after criticism.

Nick Clegg, climbing on the bandwagon as is his way, made a speech in which he said unqualified people should not be allowed to teach in state-funded schools: “Frankly it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers…  I believe that we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

But the Department for Education hit back by claiming that head teachers of academies or Free Schools should have the freedom to employ untrained teachers, in the same way that private schools hire “the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils”.

In the light of this statement, what are we to make of the latest announcement?

It seems that Mr Gove is trying to face in two directions at the same time. Doesn’t this make him two-faced? With Free Schools he seems determined to defend the employment of unqualified teachers, no matter how badly they wreck pupils’ education and future chances in life, but with the remaining state schools he seems equally determined to ensure that pupils have a higher standard of teacher, who has the qualification to prove it.

Or is it just that he wants to ensure that fewer people qualify to be teachers, leading to a shortage that would logically culminate in the employment of more unqualified people in the state sector?

Duplicity: The quality or state of being twofold or double.

Not a good standard for our education system.