Hinds sought parity of esteem but his policy adviser says it’s ‘impossible’



Trying to achieve parity of esteem between technical and academic education is “totally pointless and impossible”, a former special adviser to the education secretary has said.

Damian Hinds made striving for parity between the two routes one his top priorities while heading up the Department for Education from January 2018 to July 2019.

He said in a speech in December this was the department’s “ultimate goal” and tried to achieve it mainly by pushing through T-levels – dubbed the biggest reform of technical qualifications for a decade.

We don’t need parity of esteem. Germany doesn’t

But Jon Yates (pictured), who advised Hinds during his 18 month tenure, has branded this ambition as “madness”.

In a Twitter thread today, entitled “why is the UK crap at technical education?”, he said attempting to attain parity of esteem is “totally pointless and impossible.

“Lots of countries have great technical education. None of them have parity of esteem. Including Germany.

“I asked Germans what the big problem with their education system was. ‘Today, everyone wants to go to university. There is no parity of esteem.’ Same in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Singapore. Everywhere.

“The academic route will always lead to certain high status – from judge, teacher, civil servant, doctor. When we create a technical route to a middle class job, we pretend it’s an academic route! Try telling your doctor friends that they took a vocational route. (They did).”

He continued: “Academic courses will always have the halo of higher esteem. That’s life. So let’s forget about it.

“Who cares? We don’t need parity of esteem. Germany doesn’t. Focus on quality, not esteem. By quality I mean: will the course get you a skilled job? If it will, enough esteem will follow. Today, too often, it doesn’t.”

Yates, who ran a training provider before becoming a political adviser, left the DfE when Hinds went to the backbenches after being sacked as education secretary by new prime minister Boris Johnson last month.

He said everyone “focuses far too much on schools and not enough on colleges”, and a “top priority by far should be to fix the UK’s constant underperformance at technical education”.

He asked why the UK has been “crap” at technical education for over 70 years, and explained it is fundamentally because people with influence, such as politicians and journalists, “don’t think about it”.

He said there are three reasons as to why this is the case: Because hardly any influential people did it, because the public don’t talk about it, and because the public “secretly think that technical education is for stupid, not very capable student”.

“This disinterest means that when the government decides (again) to ‘fix’ technical education – no one pays any attention,” Yates added.

“People would say that Damian Hinds wasn’t doing much radical reform when he was making the biggest reform of technical qualifications for a decade.

“This lack of interest means that after a year of so – when reform gets hard – the government simply gives in. And nothing changes. Bad news for the 50 per cent not doing A-levels. But there will no marches, petitions. Nothing.”

You can read Jon Yates’ Twitter thread in full here:

 

“Everyone focuses far too much on schools and not enough on colleges. (And by everyone, I mean everyone – especially the public, i.e., you dear reader.)

Which is a problem as the top priority by far should be to fix the UK’s constant underperformance at technical education.

Despite all the noise, our education system is ok at academic teaching (we have a long problematic tail of poor performance – more on that another day – but the average is good).

But we have been crap at technical education though for 70+ years. Why? Fundamentally, because people with influence (politicians, journalists, business leaders) don’t think about it.

Why don’t influential people think about technical education? Three reasons. 1: Because hardly any influential people did it.

They therefore think most other people did A levels and went to uni.

Care to guess what % of young people do A levels?

Less than 50% of young people do A levels.

Reason 2: Because the public don’t talk about it.

Why? Because everyone’s children goes to school but only some do technical education. At DfE we received thousands of letters about school funding, hardly any about college funding.

Which is (on one level) crazy as we fund schools about the same amount as other rich countries (more on funding in future). But we fund colleges well below other rich countries. No-one external to the Department ever made this point to me.

Out of work I got lobbied often by friends about school funding. But never about college funding.

This disinterest means that when the government decides (again) to ‘fix’ technical education – no one pays any attention. People would say that Damian Hinds wasn’t doing much radical reform when he was making the biggest reform of technical qualifications for a decade.

This lack of interest means that  after a year of so – when reform gets hard – the government simply gives in. And nothing changes. Bad news for the 50% not doing A levels. But there will no marches, petitions. Nothing.

Reason 3 – linked to the above – is that the public secretly think that technical education is for stupid, not very capable student. Worse they think it is for disadvantaged, stupid, not very capable students (as though all disadvantaged students are stupid and incapable)

Therefore they think it needs to be easy. The result? A load of ‘technical’ qualifications that don’t actually train you to do a skilled job. Which makes them pointless. And when you suggest changing this, in comes the  government’s mandatory equality assessment process.

Minister: “I would like I get rid of this poor quality product and replace it with a better one.”

Equality assessment: “Hang on a moment, don’t do that – lots of people with protected characteristics use that product.”

Minister: “Exactly!!!”

In other words when you try and create technical qualifications that actually make you employable (which is the whole point of a technical qualification) people complain! (I’m looking at you Michael Rosen) “But some people won’t be able to do these!” Madness.

The other madness is trying to achieve ‘parity of esteem’. Totally pointless and impossible. Lots of countries have great technical education. None of them have parity of esteem. Including Germany…

… I asked Germans what the big problem with their education system was: “Today, everyone wants to go to university. There is no parity of esteem.” Same in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Singapore. Everywhere.

The academic route will always lead to certain high status – from judge, teacher, civil servant, doctor. When we create a technical route to a middle class job, we pretend it’s an academic route! Try telling your doctor friends that they took a vocational route. (They did)

Academic courses will always have the halo of higher esteem. That’s life. So let’s forget about it.”



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2 Comments

  1. Pretty clear what it is that is wrong at the DFE and that is the quality of their advisers who appear to know very little about the real world of learning. For example, if you want to be a top notch engineer you can do it as an apprentice or through four years at university. I know of two major airlines where literally every manager has been through the apprenticeship route, ditto for some of the world class British engineering brands.

    To say that the quality of teaching is ‘good’ in universities as a broad brush stroke shows someone who has probably been to one of the better universities as I do speak to many young people currently at university, and their tales of inept lecturers seem to outweigh those of the good ones.

    I could spend a couple of hours writing a tome that picks apart the views of the FORMER adviser, but what is clear is that they represent the views of an elitist old boys network in the civil service.

    PS Jon – the Civil Service are getting some highly intelligent youngsters becoming civil service apprentices who are eligible to fast track to the higher positions, once (hopefully) only filled by those who have degrees in really useful subjects for the British economy to thrive. The lesson that does need to be learned is that ministers should listen to people who know what works and what will be a catastrophe because they have real life experience of teaching and raising aspirations. The views expressed by Jon seem to be the exact opposite.

  2. Philip Gorst

    Probably one of the most common sense messages ever posted.
    Jon Yates should be on the next honours list and given a top job. With unemployment at an all time low, we should be working with loads of happy apprentices, but the fiddling about by the government with all things related to publicly funded education means that number are in decline when the opposite should be true.
    Well done Jon, and every strength to you.