Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

2020 Future Economics and education


In the last of ASCL's eight 2020 Future briefings, Robert Hill considers the implications of the UK economy on education and skills.

Until autumn 2008 the UK enjoyed a long period of sustained economic growth. Inflation and unemployment were low, productivity and skill levels had increased and higher public spending was helping to modernise the country's infrastructure.

The shape of the economy was also changing. Manufacturing was in relative decline with the service sector - financial, creative, technology, retail, catering, hospitality, tourist and public services - accounting for three-quarters of the nation's economic output by 2006, an increase of 20 per cent since 1975.

The credit crunch fuelledrecession changed some if not all of this picture. The good news is that the economy is expected to grow again during 2010 and some of the setbacks will prove temporary.

However, the economy faced problems prior to the onset of the banking crisis and combined with the aftermath of the recession the UK faces substantial economic challenges over the next decade.

Productivity, though improved, still lags behind some of our key competitors and there are big geographic disparities in productivity.

The UK's skills have also improved but are still below other similar economies. A quarter of 19 year-olds fail to achieve a level 2 qualification and we are particularly weak on producing enough employees with good technical skills.

The country's infrastructure requires further major investment. The government has ambitious plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors, carbon capture, alternative energy, a high-speed north-south rail link and superfast broadband across the country. However spending cutbacks pose a big threat to the government's ambitions.

Levels of economic inactivity are still relatively high. Although this recession has not resulted in significant increases in those claiming lone parent or incapacity benefits, a fifth of the working population is economically inactive.

The economy also faces opportunities and risks from developments in population growth, climate change and technology - issues that have been explored in previous ASCL 2020 briefings.

What do these trends mean for school and college leaders? The briefing highlights nine issues.

  1. Being rooted in the local economy. Schools and colleges are working more closely with local employers and understanding the local economic strategy for the region will be vital.

  2. Continuing to increase the proportion of young people achieving level 2 qualifications. This is bound to be a major priority for government, whatever the colour of the particular administration.

  3. Understanding the emphasis on vocational qualifications. The aim is for one in five young people to be undertaking an apprenticeship within the next decade.

  4. Preparing for a more employer-orientated qualification framework. Training is in future more likely to be based round needs identified as necessary by employers.

  5. Transforming information, advice and guidance services. Online services should integrate with external and school-based careers advice to provide a seamless, high quality offer for every young person.

  6. Adapting to a learner-empowered skills system. The government is introducing skills accounts to enable people to use their entitlement at an extended range of training providers. These accounts could in time become real cash budgets.

  7. Understanding the demand for childcare. In two-thirds of working age households both partners now work either full or part time.

  8. Increasing family and community learning. Engaging families and communities in learning is a win-win policy, for young people and adults and the broader skills agenda as well.

  9. Changing accountability systems. The trend is towards assessing outcomes for individual courses and all training providers in a very visible way, linked to streamlined regulation, audit and inspection arrangements.

Robert Hill is a former government adviser and has worked on several ASCL projects

2020 vision

See the 2020 Future briefing on education and skills, along with the seven other briefing papers at www.ascl.org.uk/2020future

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