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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting an education

It is that time of the year again when those of us who opposed tuition fees for students on the grounds that education should be free at the point of access are able to stand up, point at the latest statistics and say I told you so to all those who want to turn higher education into a market economy.

The Guardian reports that although the number of first-time undergraduates has increased substantially every year since 2004, the proportion from the poorest areas, or of ethnic minorities which are under-represented at university, has hardly changed despite a multi-million pound drive by the government to counter the effect of higher fees.

The paper surmises that these findings realise the fears of critics of the top-up fees, which triggered one of Labour's biggest rebellions under Tony Blair, with fewer students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than the government had hoped for:

The research, by Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, concludes that the overall number of students has continued to rise. The number of new full-time undergraduates has increased by 9% across the UK since 2004 and 10% in England where the fees apply. But the research also reports "no significant change in the ethnic, social class or age profile of accepted applicants across the four years 2004/5-2007/8".

From the start opponents such as myself argued that fees would put off the poorest students from attending university because, even with bursaries, the perception would be that they could not afford to continue their education. This is especially so when evidence shows that children in deprived families and in particular single parent families are more debt-averse than those who are better off.

Education is often seen as a means to improve oneself. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds or from an ethnic minority that door is rapidly being closed by this Labour Government's policies.


I always find the subject of Education very interesting; while the figures show from this article that while the number of new full-time undergraduates has increased by 9% across the UK since 2004 and 10% in England where the fees apply. But the research also reports "no significant change in the ethnic, social class or age profile of accepted applicants across the four years 2004/5-2007/8".

Let me take you back 32 years, 1976, I was a young lad of just 10 years old, there was a parents evening for parents who’s children were just about to go into Sandfields Comprehensive School for the first time, to cut a long story short, towards the end of the evening was a Q & A session; one brave parent piped up “How many students from this school have gone on to either Oxford or Cambridge”, the headmasters reply was “We don’t believe in sending our students to either of these universities since it gives them the wrong type of education”. In addition to dodging the question it also shows that the people we had then, as we have now as teachers who are great stalwarts of Inverse Snobbery.

Perhaps it’s the fault of the people we have teaching in our deprived communities that we don’t get young people for these areas going to H.E. Colleges and Universities? Are they held to account when they don’t get a single student through to either Oxford or Cambridge?

Just before finishing my degree course at Swansea University; the final year were called in to be questioned by the two professors of the department, then as is now the Great Urban Myth exists that there’s a real shortage of science teachers in our schools. In addition to be asked my name I was also asked if I would go into the teaching profession; when I said that I wouldn’t go into this as long as I had a hole in my arse, one of the professors said “Just think, you could be teaching at your old school!” which really clinched it for me! I’d rather stick red hot needles into my eyes.

As the years progressed, I’ve mellowed somewhat, in November 2004 I spied an advert in the Western Snail, “Taster of Teaching” a course organised by the OU, duly applied and as someone with a physics degree, half a dozen “A” levels, (inc. mathematics, chemistry & human biology), foster parent and some 16 years experience working in the Steel industry, perhaps the teaching profession would like to “snap me up!” – How wrong one was, in March 2005 following a number of phone calls I received the news saying that none of the schools in the area were interested in providing this service (a week in the classroom experience) for me.

This spurned me on to ask Peter the question, how many teaching vacancies are there in Wales?

Are schools experiencing difficulties in recruiting physics teachers in Wales. Which subject is recruitment most difficult in?
The number of teacher vacancies is published annually by the National Assembly for Wales Statistical Directorate. The latest data available shows data for January 2005. This shows that at that time, there were 2 vacancies for teachers of physics at secondary school level in Wales. There were 3 vacancies in 2002/03 and 2003/04. The highest number of vacancies were in English and Mathematics, with eleven vacancies each.

The Statistical Directorate also publish information on the numbers of posts advertised in secondary schools in Wales. The latest data is for between 1 January and 31 December 2004. For that period, there were 32 posts for secondary physics teachers advertised, for which 30 appointments were made. The highest number of posts advertised were for secondary English teachers – 120 posts were advertised and 111 appointments made.


For this meagre number of vacancies; in Wales we have an absolute glut of teacher training colleges, with more F.E. colleges offering some form of Teacher Training qualification by the term. The main Teacher Training colleges in Wales are at Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Newport, Swansea & Wrexham.

What an absolute waste of resources and money.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems
Sorry Peter, but I don't see how throwing money around will get more students from the poorest section of the population. I applied for university while living with my siblings and parents in a house on Llansbury Park council estate in Caerphilly. Back then there was a full grant system - so I got a full grant and tuition fees paid. But there were still very few applicants from council house estates applying to go to university even with a FULL GRANT system.

For some reason the Lib-Dems think throwing money around fixes things - it DOESN'T. The issue of getting poorer kids into university is a complex one. In my case it was my parents who wanted me to try for university. If parents have high aspirations for their children beyond mere “I want the best for them” vacuous language and make sure homework is done, that there’s respect for learning and an expectation of doing well in exams – absent such positive feedback from parents children will be less inclined to knuckle down and do well in school.

In fact as an AM you should be very concerned at the recent objective OECD stats that point to falling standards in Welsh schools in basic subjects.
actually, the number of teacher training places has been cut by an Assembly which felt, as G Lewis did, that Wales was turning out too many teachers for its own needs.

now, leaving aside the fact that education is one of Wales' better and cleaner industries, and even trying to pretend that somehow each teacher trainer somehow drained the institution/local economy of resources rather than bringing in fees, requiring accommodation, buying books, drinking in cafes etc etc .... hadn't we all better hope that England doesn't, in future, take a similar myopic approach to education professionals??
Wider View from Penarth, shouldn't put words into my posting...

Nowhere in my posting did I suggest that Teacher Training colleges were a drain on the resources of our society, what I did suggest were that they were poorly organised and we are STILL producing too many teachers for Wales's requirement!

Personally, I think Wales needs more Social Workers, yet, there are probably (not sure of the exact figures) less colleges offering Social Work c.f. Teacher Training Colleges.

By having such a glut of teachers being produced, who can't find jobs in Wales they end up moving to England to find jobs, hence can't contribute to the Welsh economy, we are loosing some of our best qualified people because there are no jobs in Wales, this is true of other professions not just teaching.

Case in point being the Baglan Energy Park, in the eight years it's been present in Baglan it's only employing some 2,300 people, the likes of the WDA and WAG are absolutely pathetic in creating work and a vibrant economy.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems
Llansbury Park council estate in Caerphilly - Is it a case that the schools in that area aren't pushing the children to apply to university? Again comes back to my point over the people we have becoming teachers, a couple of years ago I went for an interview in Porthcawl Comprehensive School, around 90% of the teachers there were under the age of 25, what life experience have these teachers had. The chances of them remaining in the teaching profession is low, isn't it something like the average career span of a qualified teacher is just 12 months?

G Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems
to Anonymous, from Lansbury Park, Caerphilly.

I grew up in Castle Park, just over what I now suppose was a drumlin (so much for my Geography education) from Lansbury Park.

I very much agree with you that throwing money at it isn't the solution. The cultural differences that mapped, broadly, onto the class and aspiration and ambition differences between my estate and yours was well-understood but can't be simply captured by income differences or access to resources.

As a budding social determinist when I was a 15 year-old, I predicted the social outcomes of my classmates. Sad to say I was largely accurate.

You had parents who approximately knew their desired outcome for you and who had either a fairly clear idea of the basic stuff that needed to be done to achieve that end, or else had a reflexive set of values to apply. I think probably the latter; it certainly was in my case.
David - "Anonymous ex-Lansbury Park" here. Two of my siblings (there were three boys and one sister in my family) also went to university - youngest brother went to Cardiff University where he did Social Sciences and Law BSC(Econ) I think and my sister went to Plymouth (then a Polytechnic) to do a degree in Sociology (if memory serves) then a post-grad certificate in Social Work and became Social Worker in the Midlands (if memory serves) then Brent in London and then back in Cardiff. So I guess they got some help from the local school teachers, but I think it was mainly my parents and then I guess me - I was the first to go to university in my family and I think this had a big impact on my siblings - they knew from that moment that they too could go to college never mind living on a council house estate where kids roamed around in gangs.
"Anonymous ex-Lansbury Park" here ... I should clarify that while my siblings went to local schools in Caerphilly, I didn't. My Welsh family moved from Trowbridge Council estate to a mega-huge council estate on the extreme edge of South East London via a council house exchange (my Welsh father was made redundant and move the whole family to London in search of work), he tried to get a job in Ford Dagenham, but they were not hiring so he got a job painting and decorating at the London shows like the Ideal Home Exhibition working for a contractor (Flushblocks seems to be a name that comes to mind) ... anyway, my parents missed Wales too much and moved the family back to Wales to Caerphilly (there happened to be a London family on Lansbury Park who wanted to return to London via a council house exchange) - by now my family was living on a small council estate on the Tooting/Streatham border in South West London, I was 19 and working my first full time job as a Junior Medical Laboratory Technician at Carshalton Hospital just south of Mitcham - but my siblings were all still in school, my youngest brother and sister were pupils in local Inner London comprehensive schools - my sister was actually a pupil in a school in Putney which had a famous headmistress - can't think of her name now, but she was a Dame and sometimes on the TV talking on education issues in London.

So my youngest brother, and I think my sister too, went to St. Martins Comprehensive on St. Martins Road, Caerphilly. They both went to university - though it took my youngest brother a few years after leaving St. Martins to get his act together, he attended Glan Hafren back on Trowbridge Estate - where he got his O and A levels, I actually tutored him in maths - he got an O level in math because of me! But he did arts A levels so I wasn't much help to him, but me and his mother paid for him to get extra private tuition and I let him borrow my car to get to Trowbridge and to his tutor in Llanishen, North Cardiff, I remember him telling me that the tutor asked him if he liked Church - my brother said he told him 'absolutely', but my bro thought he was talking about the Church Inn/Pub in Llanishen.
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