Durkheim’s Perspective on Education

Functionalist sociologist Emile Durkheim saw Education as performing two major functions in advanced industrial societies – transmitting the shared values of society and simultaneously teaching the specialised skills for an economy based on a specialised division of labour.

Durkheim, a French sociologist, was writing at the turn of the twentieth century (late 19th and early 20th) and he believed that schools were one of the few institutions uniquely poised to assist with the transition from traditional society, based on mechanical (face to face) solidarity, to modern society, which was much larger in scale and based on organic (more abstract) solidarity.

Education and the Transmission of Shared Values

According to Durkheim ‘Society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity: education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child from the beginning the essential similarities which collective life demands’ (Durkhiem, quoted in Haralambos 2013). 

Education does this by instilling a sense of social solidarity in the individual – which involves instilling a sense of belonging to wider society, a sense of commitment to the importance of working towards society’s goals and a feeling that the society is more important than the individual.

Durkheim argued that ‘to become attached to society, the child must feel in it something that is real, alive and powerful, which dominates the person and to which he owes the best part of himself’ (Durkheim, quoted in Haralambos 2013). 

Education, and in particular the teaching of history, provides this link between the individual and society. If history is taught effectively, it ‘comes alive’ for children, linking them to their social past and developing in them a sense of commitment to the social group.

Education and Social Rules 

Durkheim argued that, in complex societies, school serves a function which cannot be fulfilled by either the family, which is based on kinship or friendship, which is based on personal choice, whereas being a member of wider society involves learning to get on with and co-operate with people who are neither our kin or our friends.

School is the only institution capable of preparing children for membership in wider society – it does this by enforcing a set of rules which are applied to all children, and children learn to interact with all other children on the basis of these shared rules – it thus acts like a society in miniature.

Durkhiem argued that school rules should be strictly enforced – with a series of punishments for those who broke the school rules which reflected the seriousness of the damage done to the social group by the child who broke the rules. Durkheim also believed that by explaining why punishments were given for rule breakers, children would come to learn to exercise self-discipline not only because of fear of punishment, but also because they could see the damage their deviant behaviour did to the group as a whole.

According to Durkheim social sciences such as sociology could play a role in making it clear to children the rational basis of social rules:

‘It is by respecting the school rules that the child learns to respect rules in general, that he develops the habit of self-control and restraint simply because he should control and restrain himself. It is a first initiation into the austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun’. (Durkhiem, Quoted in Haralambos, 2013). 

Education and the Division of Labour 

Durkheim argued that a second crucial function for education in an advanced industrial economy is the teaching of specialised skills required for a complex division of labour.

In traditional, pre-industrialised societies, skills could be passed on through the family, or through direct apprenticeships, meaning formal education in school was not necessary. However, factory based production in modern industrial society often involves the application of advanced scientific knowledge, which requires years of formal education to learn, thus schools become much more necessary.

Another factor which makes school necessary in modern societies (according to Durkheim) is that  social solidarity in industrial societies is based largely on the interdependence of specialised skills – the manufacture of a single product requires the combination of a variety of specialists. In other words, solidarity is based on co-operation between people with very different skill sets – and school is the perfect place for children to learn to get on with people with different backgrounds.

Taking the above two points together, Durkheim argues that schools provide ‘the necessary homogeneity for social survival and the ‘necessary diversity for social co-operation’.

Evaluations of Durkhiem

  1. Postmodernists might criticise Durkheim for his assumption that society needs shared values – Britain has become much more multicultural in recent decades, and the extent to which there is a single British culture is debatable – there are whole communities which are largely cut off from mainstream culture, as evidenced in the case of ethnic segregation in Oldham.
  2. Marxists would be a bit more cynical about the relationship between school and work – according to Durkheim school is a neutral institution which simply transmits values and skills to individuals which enable the economy to run smoothly – according to Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle, this is a much darker process – school teaches working class kids to be passive, making them easier to exploit in later life.
  3. Ken Robinson in his ‘changing education paradigms‘ talk makes a number of criticisms of the contemporary education system – he argues it’s failing too many kids.
  4. Liberals such as Ivan Illich would even question the view that we need schools to transmit complex skills – In ‘Deschooling Society‘ he suggested that we could learn work related skills in a much more decentralised way, something which is even more possible today in the age of online learning.

Related Posts 

Talcott Parsons – Education and Universalistic Values

The Functionalist view of Education – Summary Revision Notes (a briefer version which covers this post and the work of Parsons

Evaluating the Functionalist View of Education

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How I Structure A-Level Sociology Lessons

Below is an overview of broad structure I use to teach every topic in the A-level sociology syllabus, and it’s my first post directed at sociology teachers rather than students.

I typically stretch the structure below over four hour long lessons in a week (I think the norm is 3-4 lessons in most schools and colleges), meaning that lesson one would be an ‘intro lesson’, lessons two and three ‘exploring lessons’ and lesson four the formal or informal ‘assessment lesson’.

NB – the week long, 3-4 lesson structure doesn’t work for all topics as some topics within A-level sociology are too short or long, but for shorter topics, you can stretch this structure over just one hour long lesson, just cutting out a few stages (or get students to do some of them at home) for longer topics (perspectives) you can just split the perspectives up.

Any of the stages can be extended or reduced, or omitted as time allows/ doesn’t allow.

Some people might balk at the idea of such a generic structure, but there’s a lot of variety within each section to mix things up.

If there’s enough interest in this sort of thing then ‘ll post some specific examples of a week’s worth of teaching for certain topics. It’s probably worth mentioning that I use ‘learning packs’ which integrate all of this btw.

Also, you might note, I’m a big fan of note taking – you can make this as creative as you like, but it needs to be done!

Lesson one – introducing the topic/ stating aims/ getting students thinking/ Clarifying difficult material/ note taking.

  1. State Aims/ Provide an overview of the topic
    • Normally on a PPT.
    • Could take the form of a ‘question’
    • For difficult topics you could even spend 20 minutes lecturing.
  2. Getting students thinking –
    • Find out what students know already – simply provide a question, they think up quick answers… or further questions!
    • Provide a data response with questions
    • Do a true/ false activity
    • If possible provide some questions that link back to previous, related topics.
  3. Preferably outside of the lesson – students do their own notes/ or a grid/ or simply answer questions – Provide Hand-outs/ text books with core knowledge
    • Getting students to structure their own notes is the most effective way of them learning.
    • If you’ve got them, you could use ‘learning packs’ with analytical questions.
    • I use summary grids all the time at this stage. Research has shown that all students love summary grids, although there’s no actual evidence to support this.
    • Quite a nice activity is to get students to compare notes/ suggest improvements/ even vote on the best set of notes.
    • You could of course do NOTE TAKING IN THE LESSON – 20 minutes once a fortnight/ once a week is hardly a crime against humanity (just a crime against OFSTED).

Lessons two and three – first informal assessment/ data responses/ researching, exploring and discussing

  1. First wave of Assessment for Learning (PAIRS/ GROUPS) – assessing concepts/ explanations/ evaluations (NOT elaboration at this phase)
    • Sentence sort – e.g. match the perspective to the statement.
    • Gap fill
    • Ranking – I’m sure you all know about cards
    • Brief summary writing – show a question on a ppt, include 10 concepts underneath, get students to write a brief paragraph in answer to the question (one of my favourite activities)
    • Quick posters passed round – different pairs take (for example) one of Marxism/ Feminism/ Functionalism – first pair add in concepts/ second pair evaluations/ third pair selects the most important idea (there ar lots of other versions)
    • Quick group quiz – of course, you could get the students to write the questions too.
  2. Video or data or music response case studies! Normally individual work, focusing What these suggest about a question/ concept
    • Get students to watch/ read/ listen the ‘item’
    • Discuss as a whole class or in groups – any of – what concepts does this demonstrate/ what perspectives does it support criticise/ etc…
    • If we’re doing methods/ education, this where I’ll do Methods in context planning activities.
    • If you’re watching a video, you can easily set it in advance, and show a brief clip at the beginning of a lesson to lead into this.
  3. Exploring in More Depth/ researching something in pairs or small groups (the easiest way to include Stretch and Challenge) – students basically produce something and then share it with the rest of the class
    • Straightforward web-search with question sheets
    • Produce a nice poster for the wall.
    • For anything about social policy – a ‘what would you do?’ type activity.
    • Write a letter to a government minister/
    • Actually go out and do some research
  4. Feedback findings to the rest of the class or to another group
    • If I’m doing full-on class presentations, I’ll always be selective.
    • I also get students to upload whatever they’ve done to a Moodle Forum so their work can be access later.

Lesson four – informal or formal assessment

  1. Second wave assessment for learning – more complex that the first wave earlier – covering most of the topic or sub-topic
    • Define these concepts, and explain them questions
    • Complete Venn Diagrams to show differences and similarities
    • Outline and explain questions (taken from the exam)
    • Marking and improving exercises (based on what they’ve previously done!)
    • Essay planning tasks – using essay planning grids
  2. Formal Assessment Work – Focussing tightly on the exam, without notes (usually done in the following week)
    • Moodle/ Socrative Quizzes
    • In-class Short answer tests
    • Essay paragraphs – focussing on explaining/ elaborating, analysing or evaluating
    • Once every term – a full on exam
  3. Extension work – simply provide links to…
    • Reading
    • Music link
    • Twitter etc.
    • Further questions…
    • My blog! Or a blog!
    • They blog?
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Early Retirement Extreme – A Summary

early retirement.jpgThis summer has reinforced my belief that if only I could make my 6 week summer holiday my life, my life would be a lot nicer. Hence why I’m renewing my efforts to retire early, and hence my updated summary of Jacob Lund-Fisker’s excellent book – Early Retirement Extreme – it’s very sociological too!

Early Retirement Extreme offers a critical intellectual framework for rethinking your approach to retirement that would allow someone on the median salary to retire several years earlier, and the more you earn, the earlier you should be able to achieve this goal. (The book has helped me (on £40+K) to work out an 8-12 year early retirement plan, which I’ll post on later).

Early Retirement Extreme is not a step by step guide about how to achieve early retirement. It is a critique of the paucity of normative ways of thinking about work-consumption-retirement and an overview of an alternative way of thinking about this nexus which ultimately means working and consuming less and retiring a lot earlier than normal.

If I could pick one single stand-out idea which captures the ethos of the book it is this: If your current yearly income is £10 000 and you spend 75% and save 25%, it will take you 3 years to accumulate enough savings to take 1 year off. If you invert this ratio by spending 25% and saving 75% then after 3 years you can take 9 years off.

While this hypothetical example doesn’t factor in real-life variables such what you might actually be earning, or inflation or interest on savings, it does illustrate the central principle of the book – Whatever your income, if you get used to living on as little money as possible and save as much as possible, then you will be able to retire A LOT earlier than the norm. In this model, early retirement will also require you to invest sensibly (this is not an anti-capitalist manifesto!) and develop a range of skills (social, physical, practical and technical) which will make you a more resilient person who is able to meet their downward-adjusted needs and wants with much less money.

By saving 75% of his income Fisker managed to become financially independent in five years, and the blog recommends that you aim to save at least 40-60% of your income to make early retirement possible (I’ve managed 56%).

In Fisker’s model, the first step to early retirement is to get over the habitual way of thinking about work as something we do for 40 years, and to get over the idea that a high-level of consumption is what we do with those small chunks of time when we are not working. In his view, many of the consumer goods and services which are regarded as normal have little real value, and as examples he lists everything from kitchen gadgets to gym memberships but also cars and higher education.

Instead of working-consuming for 40 years, Fisker suggests that we stop consuming and start saving and we spend our non-working time developing ‘resilience skills’ which will make us less dependent on money. He suggests four types of skill – practical (e.g. building your own house rather than paying £100K interest on a mortgage), technical (a diverse range of professional skills), physical (being able to cycle rather than needing to drive), and social (sharing a house rather than living alone).

Each individual will approach early retirement in different ways depending on their own specific circumstances, and Fisker suggests that it is up to the individual to weigh up their own talents and find their own individual (or couple/ small network) path to retiring early – In this vision, thinking for yourself, and creativity are crucial.

The fact that the idea of saving 75% of your income will seem unrealistic to most and down-right impossible to many is, to Fisker, simply a sign of how colonised our minds have become by societal work-consumption-retirement norms and very early on in the book Fisker contrasts his own creative ‘renaissance’ approach to early retirement to the slavish mentality which keeps us chained to our sub-optimal 40 hour a week/ 40 year career working norm.

He uses Plato’s cave analogy to illustrate how we have become wage slaves, the wall in his modern rendering of this tale representing us being trapped by the multitude of things we mistakenly think we need. However, unlike physical walls, our chains are mental, because rather than using our imagination to creatively break free of this cycle, we develop excuses which keep us locked into this cycle of a long-career and short-retirement.

Fisker criticises what he casts as the ‘wage-credit-spend-consume-retire on a million-cycle’ – Into which we have been duped. He is especially critical of our wasteful consumption practices – we are taught to be materialists through toys from childhood and later on our mortgage-purchased houses become places in which we store stuff which goes largely unused.

As briefly outlined above, rather than spending, Fisker’s solution to breaking free of this cycle is simple – spend less and save like what appears to be crazy to build a relatively small retirement pot. His own version of retirement really is extreme – saving 75% of his income, it took him 5 years to retire on a third of the median income (something like $700 annually), reducing his expenditure to the very basics of life and finding creative ways to enable him to live on less.

Given that he lives on $7000/ year, it seems reasonable to assume that he had an income of $30 000 over these five years of saving, meaning that he has ‘retired’ on an income pot of $150 000, although it will almost certainly be more than that given that he appears knowledgeable about investing.

Obviously this is more than most people will be earning in their late 20s/ early 30s when he started out on his early retirement mission, but Fisker holds that it is the 75-25 ratio that is the crucial thing, and more crucially, the mindset to spend as little as you can by finding creative ways to avoid the con-of-consumption and save what remains.

If you haven’t already done so, I thoroughly recommend checking out the early retirement extreme blog which has details of many people on a mission to retire early, and in a future post I’ll put together a number of links to U.K. based early retirers…

Quit Your Job and Retire Early

quit job early retirementIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my latest ‘applied sociology’ guide – ‘How to Quit Your Job and Retire Early‘ which covers how you can quit your job and achieve early retirement.

This guide provides a detailed analysis of how people get locked-in to an extremely sub-optimal 40 year work and high-consumption lifestyle and provides twelve* simple strategies for consuming less across each of the main expenditure strategies and suggests some alternative pathways through life which are less money-dependent.

If you can just reject everything which is normal in UK culture, you to could retire in your early 50s, or even earlier!

*actually updated to 13, but 12 sounds better!

You might also like…

How the median income earner could retire at 52

Your Mortgage or your life…

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

The 10, 000 Hour Rule is the theory that it takes 10 000 hours of practice to become an expert in something – and seems to be most frequently applied to the fields of sport and music.

Below is a summary of Malcolm Caldwell’s perspective on the 10, 000 hour rule – he basically argues that it does seem to be true that you need 10, 000 hours to become a world-leader in any given field, but you also have to be extremely lucky and/ or privileged in some way to have the opportunities which give you the time to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice.

1. 

The University of Michigan opened its new Computer Center in 1971… its mainframe computers stood in the middle of a vast white room looking like something out the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Off to the side were dozens of keypunch machines – what passed in those days as computer terminals. In 1971, this was state of the art and the University of Michigan had one of the most advanced computer science programmes in the world. The most famous student who passed through this was a gawky teenager named Bill Joy who came to the Center the year it opened when he was 16. From that point on, the Computer Center was his life.

Bill Joy 2017.jpeg

Bill Joy in 2017

In 1975 he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Berkeley, where he rewrote UNIX in collaboration with others, which remains the main operating system on literally millions of computers around the world today, and then went on to co-found Sun Micro-systems where he rewrote JAVA.

Joy is sometimes called the Edison of the Internet, and is one of the most influential people in computing history.

The story of Bill Joy is normally told as one in which he existed in a pure meritocracy – because in a new tech field, there was no old-boy network and the field was open, all participants being judge on their talents…. It was a world where the best men won, and Joy was clearly one of those best men.

It would be easier to accept this story if one hadn’t have already have looked at the Hockey stats… whose story was also supposed to be a pure meritocracy. Only it wasn’t, it was a story of how outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage.

Is it possible that these same factors work in the world of computing as well?

2

For many years psychologists have been involved in a debate over whether innate talent exists. This is something that most people accept – success = innate talent + preparation,  but the problem with the concept of innate talent, is that the more psychologists look at it, the bigger role that preparation seems to play.

Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who divided violinists at Berlins’ elite Academy of Music up into three groups – those with the potential to become world class soloists, those who were judged to be merely good, and those who were unlikely to ever play professionally – they were asked a simple question – since you first picked up a violin, how many hours have you practiced?

The answer was that early on the practice regimes were the same, but when the students were around the age of eight, real differences began to emerge. By the age of twenty, the elite students had amassed a total of 10 000 hours, the good students 8000, and the future music teachers only 4000 hours.

10 000 hour rule.jpg

Ericsson also found that there were no people who simply coasted without practicing, and no grinds – students who tried but got nowhere, so he simply concluded that once you look at just the ‘elite students’ what differentiates the best students from the ordinary is simply the amount of practice they have amassed.

This pattern has been found among musicians, sports stars and grand-masters at chess.

This idea that to become an expert requires a critical mass of practice hours surfaces again and again, so much so that the magic number of 10 000 hours to be an expert has emerged.

Practice is the thing that makes you good – and the interesting thing about it is that it is an enormous amount of time….And if you’re a hockey player born young, the fact that you’re deselected early on means you’re unlikely to be in an environment where you’re going to get 10 000 practice before you’re 17, and  If your poor, you simply can’t fit it in the hours because you’ll probably need to work.

3.

While it is true that Bill Joy had an enormous aptitude for maths, he was also lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to get in 10 000 hours of programming practice, which was basically just down to luck.

Firstly, he was lucky enough to be at Michigan University at a time when that was pretty much the only place in the world which had a computer center in which programming had evolved to a ‘time sharing system’ – where the computers could handle more than one task at once, so multiple people could programme at the same time, rather than the old ‘punch card system’ in which it took hours of preparation to get in a few minutes of programming.

Secondly, he was lucky enough that the university kept the computer center open all night, which allowed him to programme 8-10 hours a day.

Thirdly, the computer center charged for people to use it, but a bug in the programme allowed him (and many others) to programme for free.

So yes, Joy was talented and put in the effort, but he also needed a whole of lot fortunes of circumstance  to come together so that he could amass his 10 000 hours of practice – which meant that by the time he was in his third year at Berkeley he was up to the task of rewriting UNX.

NB Joy hadn’t even gone to Michigan to study computing, but maths and engineering, he was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

4.

Is the 10 000 rule a general rule of success?

The Beatles came to America in 1964, by which time they had really ‘made it’. However, they had known each other for a long time before fame: Lennon and McCartney first met in 1957.

The Beatles.jpg

Interviews with The Beatles reveal that what really made them was their experience of playing in strip clubs in Hamburg where they were required to play 8 hours a night and 7 days a week.  They weren’t able to just do their best numbers, they had to learn a lot of covers, and, being foreign, they had to put more energy into their routines to come across effectively.

Just as with Bill Joy, it was sheer luck that got The Beatles their Hamburg experience – a particular promotor from Germany was in London scouting for bands, and met a guy from Liverpool who knew of The Beatles, just randomly in a bar in Soho – it was this connection that did for them.

Between 1960 and 1962, they played for a total of 270 nights in Hamburg – they went out average and came back uniquely excellent – no one else sounded like them.

By 1964, The Beatles had amassed a total of 1200 live performances, a figure which most professional bands struggle to achieve in their entire careers.

Bill Gates’ story is also told as one of individual grit – Brilliant young math whiz discovers computer programming and drops out of Harvard to form a little company called Microsoft… and so on.

Bill Gates.jpg

But let’s dig a little deeper… and there a shed loads of social factors from which Gates benefited…

  1. Gate’s father was a wealthy lawyer in Seattle and his mother the daughter of a well-to-do banker. They put him into the elite independent Lakeside School in grade 7.
  2. In 1968, the school set up a computer club, with money from the mother’s annual junks sale ($3000), unusually, they installed an ASR-33 Teletype which allowed Gates (who joined the club) to do real time programming in 1968, which was practically unheard of.
  3. Washington University set up a Computer Centre Corporation, and one of the founders of the firm had a son at Lakeside, and Gates was networked into being able to test out their software at weekends for free.
  4. This first firm went bankrupt, but another company, ISI established and need someone to write Payroll software – Gates took advantage of that opportunity
  5. Gates happened to live within walking distance of Washington State Univeristy
  6. WSU had free computer time between 3 and 6 a.m. that Gates took advantage of.
  7. A power station in Washington State needed people to write software, the only people with the skills in the area were the kids from Lakeside.
  8. Lakeside school allowed Gates (and some others) to go write software for that power station under the guise of an ‘independent project’.

All of the above opportunities gave Gates time to practice programming – by the time he dropped out of Harvard, he was way past 10 000 hours.

6.

What truly distinguishes Bill Joy, Bill Gates and The Beatles is not their extra-ordinary talent and effort (although all three cases had both), but rather their extraordinary opportunities…. This seems to be the rule rather than the exception with software engineers and rock stars.

Another examples of this ‘extra-ordinary’ opportunity thesis is revealed if we analyse the birth dates of the richest 75 people in history.

An astonishing 14 people on the list are American born, and born within 9 years of each other – thousands of years of human history, hundreds of countries, and 20% of the richest are born in one generation in one country.

What’s going on here? In the 1860s and 70s the American economy went through one the biggest expansions in its history: it is when the railroads were built, when Wall Street emerged and when industrialization started in earnest. However, if you were born in the late 1820s, you were too old: your mind set was shaped by pre-civil war paradigms, if you were born in the late 1840s, you missed it!

We can do the same analysis with people like Bill Joy and Bill Gates.

If you talk to veterans of Silicon Valley, they’ll tell you that the most important date in the history of the personal computer revolution was January 1975 when the first DIY computer kit, the Altair 8800, was released at a sale price of $397, a minicomputer kit to rival commercial models. This was the year when personal home computing became available to the majority of people.

If you were too old in 1975, born before 1952, then you’d already have a job at IBM, and have a hard time making the transition to the ‘new world’ and the possibilities for transformation that were opening up.  You’d be of an age in in 1975 where you’re established computer career meant it was just comfortable to stay put.

If you were born after 1958, then you were too young to get your foot in the door when this change took place.

Ideally you would have been born in 1954 or 1955, and just look….

  • Bill Gates – October 28th, 1955
  • Paul Allen, third richest man at Microsoft – Jan 21st 1953
  • Steve Ballmer, the cofounder of Apple computer, March 24 1956.
  • Steve Jobs – February 24, 1955.
  • Bill Joy – Nov 8th

 

 

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The Mathew Effect: A Summary of ‘Outliers’ Chapter One.

Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) by Malcom Gladwell is a great work of sociology, so I thought it’s worth summarizing in some depth. The gist of the book is that it’s not exceptional individual talent which explains success, but rather the exceptionally unusual opportunities which successful individuals stumble upon.

Chapter One: The Mathew Effect

Gladwell sets the scene to this chapter by painting a picture of the Tigers and the Giants competing for victory in the  Memorial League hockey cup –the two best teams in the hockey league chock full of the future stars of league hockey.

There is a general, strong belief that Canadian hockey leagues are organised as a meritocracy. Thousands of children start playing hockey at ‘novice’ level before Kindergarten. From that point on there are leagues for every age and class and at each of these levels the players are evaluated, sifted and groomed for the next level, all the way up to Junior memorial league A. If you reach that league, and especially if your team ends up competing in the final of the memorial league cup, then you are among the very best hockey players in the country.

It is generally believed that getting into these top leagues is a matter of individual merit – a combination of ability and effort. The belief is that it does no matter who your parents are, how much money they have, where you live, or who you know, anyone with enough raw talent who is prepared to put in the effort will be picked up by talent scouts relatively early on and then groomed successfully for progression.

Players are judged by the own performance, and progress on their individual merit… or do they?

2.

This book is going to introduce you to all sorts of successful people, and argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we tend to make sense of success.

The question we tend to ask about such people is ‘what are they like’? How intelligent are they? What lifestyles do they have, what are their special qualities? We tend to assume that it is those personal qualities which get them to the top.

In the numerous biographies published every year by the celebrities/ entrepreneurs etc. the story of their success is basically the same – they came from modest backgrounds and through their own grit and determination struggled to the top.

These explanations of success don’t work – the people who rise to the tops of their fields are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways that others cannot.

It is not enough to ask ‘what are successful people like’, it is only by asking ‘where are they from’ that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.

3.

In the mid 1980s a Canadian psychologist names Roger Barnsley first drew attention to the importance of relative age in national hockey leagues.

Barnsley found what he called ‘the iron law of Canadian hockey’ = in any elite group of hockey players – the very best of the best – 40% of the players will have been born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September and 10% between October and December.

4.

The explanation for this is quite simple – the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1. A boy who turns 10 on January 2nd could effectively be playing against a boy who won’t turn 10 until the end of the year – and at that age, a 12 month gap represents a huge difference in physical maturity.

Coaches start to select players for their travelling ‘rep squads’ at the age of 9 or 10 – and they will tend to see as more impressive those players who are bigger and better coordinated, i.e. those born in January who have a 12 month head start on those born in December.

Those who are selected will then have better coaching, practice 2-3 times as much and play 2-3 times as many games compared to those left behind in the local leagues, and after a few years of this, by the time they are 13, the ‘chosen ones’ are significantly better because of this extra coaching and game time.

Wherever you get sever age cutoffs like this, and where you select, stream and differentiate, you end up giving a huge boost to those closest to that age cut off.

In the English football league where the cutoff is September 1st, at one point in the 1990s there were 288 players born between September and November and only 136 players born between June and August.

A similar pattern is found in American baseball, but not so much in American Football, because the age cutoff is not so severe.

The exact same biases also show up in areas of much more consequence, like education. Parents with children born at the end of the calendar year often think about holding their children back, but they don’t, because they think the relative disadvantage they face because of their age disappears over time, but the stats suggest this isn’t the case.

Two economists – Bedard and Dhuey looked at the relationship between age and TIMSS (math and science tests) scores, which many four year olds do around the world. They found that among fourth graders, the oldest children scored somewhere between four and twelve percentile points higher than the younger children – a huge effect: If you take the two opposite ends, the oldest will score in the 80th percentile, the youngest in the 68th percentile, the difference between getting on to a GT programme or not.

Dhuey says that as a result of early testing, teachers confuse maturity with ability – it’s the oldest kids getting put in the advanced reading groups. The only country where this doesn’t happen is Denmark, where they hold off ability streaming until the age of 10.

They found that similar trends persist until college in the USA

5.

What the above examples tell us is that opportunity plays a critical role in individual success.

Robert Merton called the above effect the ‘Mathew Effect’ – ‘for unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from he that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

It is those who are successful who are given the most special opportunities – the rich with their tax breaks, and the biggest (oldest) kids with their access to coaching programmes, as well as the older kids who get access to the Gifted and Talented programmes. These opportunities, especially early on in life, gives these people an edge, which makes them more likely to be successful, which opens up another opportunity, and so on…

Caldwell also says these systems aren’t especially efficient, as we’re blocking the advancement of the lower half of the age cohort.

Because we profoundly individualize success, we miss opportunities to lift those born later up onto the higher rungs. We make rules that frustrate achievement for those born later. We are far too in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail… We overlook just how large a role society plays in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

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Social Indicators of Development

The main social indicators of development include education, health, employment and unemployment rates and gender equality, and this post introduces students to the specific indicators which institutions such as the World Bank and United Nations use to measure how ‘developed’ a country is, and the main indices which are used to compare the levels of development of different countries.

Indicators Used to Measure Education and Development

The World Bank uses the following eight core indicators to measure how developed a country is in terms of education:

  • The net enrolment rate for pre-primary
  • The net enrolment rate for primary*
  • The net enrolment rate for secondary education
  • The gross enrolment ratio for tertiary (further) education.
  • Gender parity for primary education (using the gross enrolment ratio)**
  • primary completion rate for both sexes
  • The total number of primary aged children who are out of school.
  • Government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP.

 

*The net enrolment rate for primary is ‘the number of pupils of official primary school age (according to ISCED97) who are enrolled in primary education as a percentage of the total children of the official school age population’.

**The gross enrolment rate for primary school The number of children enrolled in primary school (of any age) as a percentage of the total children of the official school age population

The difference between Net Enrolment Rate and Gross Enrolment Rate is explained succinctly in this blog post on NER, GER and Universal Primary Education.

Other social indicators to be covered in a future post…..

  • The Birth Rate and Fertility Rate
  • Suicide rates
  • Peacefulness

(Subjective Indicators)

  • Life satisfaction (‘happiness’ indicators)
  • Trust
  • confidence
  • well-being
  • perceived security

 

 

  1. Education
  2. Health
  3. Work
  4. Gender equality
  5. Peacefulness
  6. Democracy
  7. Corruption
  8. Consumption
  9. Pollution
  10. Leisure/ Media
  11. Civil Rights
  12. Crime/ social unrest
  13. Composite indicators of all of the above!!!
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Do exam results matter?

So it’s A level result’s day and you’ve stuffed up. But do exam results actually matter?

IF you wish to pursue success through what Robert Merton would have called the ‘legitimate opportunity structure’ then they probably do matter, but if you have access to to ‘alternative opportunity structures’ or if you ‘reject the ordinary success goals of society’, then they probably matter a whole lot less.

In this post, I’ll go through some of the conditions which might make exam results matter to an individual, and some of the conditions which mean they might matter less…

A-Levels, Degrees, ‘Success’ and the Legitimate Opportunity Structure 

Writing in the 1940s, Robert Merton broadly defined the legitimate success goals of American society  as those of material wealth, and the legitimate means to achieving these goals as being through education and a career which paid an income. In the USA and UK Today, most people still aspire to the goals of achieving material success, and most people still try to do so through the legitimate opportunity structure – basically through hard work and legal means, rather than crime.

As a general rule, if you wish to achieve the ‘legitimate success goals of society’ through ‘legitimate opportunity structures’ then getting a good set of A-levels and a degree is still the surest way of achieving these goals for most people.

In 2015 (UK stats) graduates, on average, earned 45% more than non-graduates, that’s about £10 000 pounds a year more than non-graduates.

This trend is even more marked if we were to make the comparison between non-graduate jobs and the very highest paying ‘professional careers such as Medicine, Law or Engineering, and all of these professions require a degree, which typically require A-levels to get onto an appropriate degree-level course.

So, if you want a ‘conformist’ lifestyle – a decent paying job, then getting A levels and then a degree is the most obvious way to get one, in which case your A-level exam results matter.

However, fortunately, this is pretty much where the ‘A-levels are important to your success’ line ends, mainly thanks to a certain expansion in the legitimate opportunity structure.

The Legitimate Opportunity Structure has Expanded

Simply put, there are are loads of alternative routes to achieving the ‘ordinary success goals of society’.

For starters, there are access courses, through which you qualify for the ‘access to higher education diploma – over 40 000 people enroll on them every year, and you can do them in a lot of subjects.

access higher education.png

Secondly, apprenticeships are by far the largest growth area within the ‘legitimate opportunity structure’ in recent years. There were over 500 000 apprenticeship starts in 2015-16, and 190 000 of them were level 3 apprenticeships, so if you’ve really stuffed up your A-levels, there’s plenty of opportunity to start again here.

Thirdly, you could try your hand at becoming an ‘entrepreneur’. While I don’t believe there is unlimited opportunity for everyone to make millions through inventing things or just having ideas, you certainly don’t need a degree to try. NB – if you have a great idea, but lack capital, then crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way of funding a new business venture, that you can basically start from your bedroom.

And don’t forget, that these days you can always become an ‘entrepreneur of yourself’ – by blogging or vlogging your way to success – as many make-up artists, personal trainers, or vanilla-spreaders have done. Although just as with entrepreneurship more generally, there isn’t unlimited opportunity for everyone who wants to to make big (or even sufficient) money doing this. This strategy is maybe one for the pretty, pretty vacant, and extreme types among us….

Fourthly, you might be able to exploit your cultural and/ or social capital and network your way into a decent job, or internship… although this probably only applies if your parents are screamingly middle-class, still, for the top 5% or so it’s an option.

Rejecting the Legitimate Opportunity Structure 

A final set of reasons why A level results may not matter is if you simply don’t want to pursue an ‘ordinary life’. There are plenty of alternative lifestyles which don’t require A-levels or degrees, and offer a very alternative ‘educational experience’ in themselves. NB I covered many of these in this post last year: ‘alternative lifestyles – or how to avoid ‘working’ for a living‘, below is just  a briefer summary of that post:

Firstly – you could try ‘living off the land’ – admittedly you’d need to buy the land first, which is quite an investment, and if you’re doing it in the UK you’d need to negotiate the archaic planning laws, but once you’ve got the land, it’s possible to grow or rear most of your food, and to live very rich life, very money-cheaply indeed. I recently visited Lammas eco-village in West Wales, and the guys there all live of a few thousand pounds a year only. You might also like to check out my other suggestions for experiments in alternative living –

Secondly, you could become a perpetual traveler – you don’t need much money to get you started, and if you do this you could just earn as you go. You might even be able to combine it with earning some money from a travel blog, although as with vlogging more generally, I suggest you only try this if your pretty sexy.

Finally, and most hardcore of all, you could learn to live without money. Hardcore I know, but there are people doing it! As a softer alternative, you could just try to access as much stuff as possible without money, by skip diving for food or just living off hand-me down clothes, for example. If you want some further inspiration on how you might transition to fully money-less, you might like to check out my earlier blog post on Freeganism.

In Conclusion 

A-level results matter a lot less if you’re prepared to ‘think outside the box’ about what you want out of life.

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Do bad exam results matter?

Results day tomorrow, and I predict that Social Media will be full of comments by celebrities telling students that exam results don’t matter that much because ‘I failed my exams, but I still found success’.

This happened last year during The Guardian’s live chat following the release of  the 2016 GCSE results. The chat even supplied a link to a list of ‘famous school flops‘, which include the big three examples of ‘success despite educational failure’ – Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and Simon Cowell, but I can’t really see the relevance of these examples to today’s youth – all they demonstrate is that white men born before 1960 had a chance of being successful if they failed their exams, hardly representative.

There are a few comments from younger celebrities who claim that getting bad exam results are not the end of the world, because despite bad exam results, they have managed to build successful careers. 

From radio presenter Darryl Morris (no, I’d never heard of him either, although I do recognise him):

Daryll Morris.jpg

Darryl Morris – with 10 year’s of hobby-experience, a cheeky-chappy personality and a lot of luck, you too can be successful, even if you failed your exams!

I missed out on my desired GCSE results because I spent most of my revision time practising at the school radio station. I have no English qualifications and dropped out of a college that reluctantly accepted me to pursue a radio career – now I am a presenter and writer….You don’t need anybody’s permission to be successful – it comes from your passion, commitment and ambition.

From Ben Fogle, presenter of every outdoor program the BBC has made this century:

‘Exams left me feeling worthless and lacking in confidence. The worse I did in each test, the more pressure I felt to deliver results that never came. When I failed half my A-levels, and was rejected by my university choices, I spiralled into a depression.

The wilderness rescued me. I have been shaped by my experiences in the great outdoors. Feeling comfortable in the wild gave me the confidence to be who I am, not who others want me to be… it strengthened my character and set me back on track.’

Ben Fogle.jpg

Ben Fogle – If you’re independently schooled, screamingly middle class and very lucky, then you could also network your way into a TV presenting career, even if you fail your exams

Finally, Jeremy Clarkson tweeted: “If your A-level results are disappointing, don’t worry. I got a C and two Us, and I’m currently on a superyacht in the Med.”

The problem with the above is that every single one of the above examples may well be talented and passionate about what they do, as well as hard-working, but IN ADDITION, they either exploited what you might call ‘alternative opportunity structures’, they networked their way to success, or they were just plain lucky, in the sense of being in the right place at the right time: 

Morris was presenting radio from a very young age, so already had lots of experience by the time he was snapped up by the BBC at 16 – so this guy’s ‘alternative opportunity structure’ was through school and local community radio – a very niche way to success.

TBH I don’t know whether Clarkson networked himself onto Top Gear – but he went to the same fee-paying private school (Repton School) as the executive producer of the program, so even if the old-school tie wasn’t part of it, he would’ve oozed cultural and social capital because of his class background.

As for Fogle not only was he independently schooled (so culturally well prepared for his future at the BBC which is chock-full of the privately schooled), -he was also lucky enough to have been at the right age/ fitted the profile for the BBC’s Castaway 2000 series, which catapulted him into fame, he’s also quite charming, which no doubt helps!

So all these case studies show us is that if you want to be successful, then exam results don’t matter IF you have alternative opportunity structures to exploit, AND/ OR you have sufficient social and cultural capital to be able to be able network your way into a job. 

This important qualification (excuse the pun) to the ‘exam results don’t matter argument’ is backed up by Frances Ryan who points out that such comments tend to come from upper middle class adults, for whom as teenagers, poor exam results mattered less because their parents’ wealth and their higher levels cultural and social capital opened up other opportunities for them.

However, Ryan argues that for teenagers from poorer backgrounds, getting good exam results may well be the only realistic opportunity  they have of getting into university and getting a graduate job, which, on average, will still pay you more over the course of a life time than a non-graduate job.

A classic way in which this inequality of opportunity manifests itself is that wealthy parents are able to support their 19-20 year old teenagers to either do another year of A levels, or an access course, or an unpaid internships for a few months or a year to give them a second chance, poorer kids don’t have these options, not unless they want to go into crippling levels of debt.

So – do bad exam results matter? Judging by the analysis above, it matters more if you’re from a working class background because education and qualifications provide the most likely path way to social mobility…..but less so from an upper middle class background.

Having said all of that, if you’ve woken up to the idea that a normal life is basically just a bit shit, then exam results don’t really matter at all. Trust me, jobs aren’t all that! Why not try one of the following alternatives instead:

  • Do voluntary work
  • Become an eco-anarchist
  • Become an artist
  • Go travelling
  • Go homeless
  • Become a monk
  • Live with your parents for the rest of your life.
  • Learn to live without money.

For more ideas about alternative career paths, you might like this post: alternative careers: or how to avoid working for a living.

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Why IQ Tests May not Measure Intelligence

The American psychologist Arthur Jensen (1973) defines intelligence as ‘abstract reasoning ability’ – the ability to discover the rules, patterns and logical principles underlying objects and events and the ability to apply these discoveries to solve problems.

Intelligence is measured by intelligence tests such as IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests which are designed to measure abstract reasoning ability. As such they try avoid questions which ask about factual knowledge – such as ‘what is the capital of the USA?’ but instead ask questions such as – ‘what is the next number in the following sequence – 1,8,27, 64, __’

Despite their widespread use, there is a large body of evidence which suggest that IQ tests are not a valid measure of intelligence, because abstract reasoning is only one facet of the full range of mental abilities.

Culture and Intelligence

The Canadian psychologist Otto Klineberg (1971) gave an IQ test to Yakima Native American children living in Washington State, USA. The test involved timing how long it took the children to place different shaped wooden blocks in the appropriate shaped holes in a wooden frame. The children achieved only low scores, but Klineberg argued that this was because their culture, unlike Western culture, did not place a high value on speed.

yakima.jpg

This suggests that it is inappropriate to compare the intelligence of people from different cultures, as any speed-based test favours some cultures over others.

Other researchers have pointed out that cultural variations between classes within a society mean that IQ tests are biased towards the middle classes, because such tests are largely constructed by and standardised on this group. If we accept the fact that there are cultural differences between social classes, and that the working classes have lower levels of deferred gratification and higher levels of fatalism, as well as a ore negative experience of education generally, then it is likely that they will do less well in IQ tests compared to middle class children.

Further reasons why IQ tests may not measure intelligence 

Klineberg argues that at least the following factors influence how well an individual does in an IQ test:

  • The previous experience and education of the person tested
  • His degree of familiarity with the subject matter of the test
  • His motivation or desire to achieve a good score, in the appropriate time frame.
  • His rapport with the tester
  • his knowledge of the language in which the test is conducted
  • his physical health and well-being.

 

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How to Improve Work in the United Kingdom

Below is my summary of chapters 6-11 of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which deals with what needs to be done to make work better for more people in the UK.

Executive summary: we need to deal with the following areas:

  • Legal issues – we need greater clarity in the law pertaining to employment status and employment rights (dealt with in chapter 5) and we need fairer enforcement when people make claims against their employers (dealt with in chapter 8)
  • Flexible worker arrangements – we need to make sure that flexibility isn’t one sided, we need to make sure it benefits all workers, not just a companies and some workers (dealt with in chapter 6)
  • We need to make sure business is responsible – which includes making sure that workers feel more ‘included’ in work, or that work is less ‘alienating’ (chapter7)
  • Taxation – We need to re-jig the taxation system so it’s fairer for the employed and the self-employed (chapters 9 and 10)
  • Education needs to play a role in getting people ready for the future challenges of employment.
  • Worker progression – employers need to provide more opportunities for workers to progress.

Legal issues/ Improving Clarity in the Law (chapters 5 and 8)

The context for this chapter is that the law surrounding work and workers’ rights is becoming more complex given the diversification of types of work.

There are currently three types of ‘worker’ in the UK (according to UK employment law) – employees, self-employed and ‘workers’.

  • Most people in the UK will be ‘employees’, with the full range of employment protections available. This is because the majority of people still work in traditional, full-time roles.
  • For others who are genuinely self-employed, employment protections do not apply. For those who are neither employees nor self-employed,
  • the status of ‘worker’ provides a relative safety net, ensuring that a group of more casual workers are protected by a set of baseline rights – such as the National Minimum Wage

The report basically argues that there is too much confusion in, for example, gig economy work, over whether workers are genuinely self-employed or not – basically, companies such as Uber have tried to defined their workers as self-employed, while at the same time effectively controlling the hours they work, but recently Uber employees managed to win a court judgement that they were in fact ‘workers’ rather than ‘self-employed’, meaning they are now entitled to more protections than they would have been under the ‘self-employed’ label.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done in setting down guidance over how to determine whether an employee is genuinely self-employed or a ‘worker’ for a company such as Uber.

Chapter 8 deals with the problems workers face if they wish to make a legal challenge against their employer through an employment tribunal – the basic problem seems to be that it costs a few hundred quid to bring an employer to a tribunal and workers need to prove their employer is in the wrong, rather than the other way around.

The report recommends that the onus be on the employer to prove they are employing their employees under decent conditions.

Flexible Working/ Tackling One Sided Flexibility (chapter 6)

This chapter starts off by noting certain advantages of flexibility:

  • It can enable business to respond to changing market conditions and has supported record employment rates.
  • Individuals have the opportunity to work in a range of different ways, on hours that fit around other responsibilities, such as studies or caring responsibilities.
  • The Labour Force Survey published in March 2017 found that almost one fifth of people on zero hours contracts are in full-time education, and 68% of those on zero hours contracts do not want more hours.

There are also certain disadvantages:

  • There is an issue of flexibility not being reciprocated, with a requirement to be available for work at very short notice, without any guarantee that work will actually be available.
  • Flexible work makes it very difficult for a person to manage their financial obligations, or for example secure a mortgage, which can feel unfair, especially when the reality of the working arrangement is that the individual regularly works 40 hours a week.
  • While in theory individuals in these working arrangements have the right to turn down work, many are afraid to do so because of fear of unfair dismissal.

The report notes that ‘too many employers and businesses are relying on zero hours, short-hours or agency contracts, when they could be more forward thinking in their scheduling. Workers need to be able to make informed decisions about the work that they do, to plan around it, and to be compensated if arrangements change at short notice’.

It also notes the following, specific problems and recommendations

  • There are problems with the 26 week period before a lot of ‘workers’ rights kick in.
  • Some agency workers aren’t clear how much of their wages is going to be deducted in tax/ NI – this needs to be made clearer by agencies.
  • It’s unclear how holiday rights can be worked out for casual workers whose hours of work vary from week to week.
  • Workers who have been on temporary/ Zero Hours contracts for 12 months should have the right to request permanent/ guaranteed hours contracts.

The report cites two examples of companies which have got it right with their flexible employment policies – For example the Brewery Adnams and (surprisingly?) McDonalds:

Brewing company Adnams used zero-hour contracts to accommodate the seasonal nature of the business. However, through involvement in the Beyond Pay inquiry, they recognised how this contributed to employees experiencing in-work poverty. They moved all their existing staff onto contracts that guaranteed a minimum number of hours a week. To tackle low pay, they reduced and redistributed bonuses paid to their senior team.”

‘In April 2017, McDonald’s offered 115,000 UK workers on zero-hours contracts the option of moving to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours every week. The fast-food chain offered fixed-hours contracts after staff in its restaurants complained they were struggling to get loans, mortgages and mobile phone contracts because they were not guaranteed employment each week.

The company found that about 80% of workers in the trial chose to remain on flexible contracts and it reported an increase in levels of employee and customer satisfaction after the offer. Staff were offered contracts in line with the average hours per week they worked. This included contracts of four, eight,16, 30 or 35 hours a week

Responsible Work

This chapter is about two things – worker voice and transparency.

Worker Voice

The report recognises that worker voice (having a say in the way the business is run) is an important part of workplace satisfaction.

Those in routine jobs report the lowest levels of satisfaction (57%), while GIG economy workers (maybe surprisingly) report high levels of satisfaction. It’s recognised that worker voice isn’t really a problem in SMEs.

There is legislation in place to make sure that management consult workers over management decisions (especially on restructuring issues) but this only covers large employers with over 50 employees.

Transparency

This simply says companies should report on how many workers on zero hours contracts have requested guaranteed hours, and how many of those on temporary contracts have requested permanent contracts.

The recommendations for this section are pretty wishy-washy – reviewing legislation etc.

Taxation (chapter 9)

Currently, the different rates of National Insurance in particular mean that the UK system of taxing labour is not neutral – a self-employed person doing the same work as an employed person can pay a different amount of tax or National Insurance despite receiving similar contributory benefit entitlements in return.

The self-employed no longer pay any of the employer NICs contribution and their own rate is now lower than the employee rate: an employee pays NICs on their earnings at a rate of 12%, and their employer pays 13.8% on top of this.

For example, someone earning an average UK salary (around £28,000) would pay £2,095 in National Insurance if they were employed. But they would pay £159 less if they were self-employed.

In addition, the employed person’s employer would have to pay £2,409 in National Insurance on top of this. But the self-employed person does not face this charge. This means that for both the individual and their employer, they will pay less in tax/NICs if they are self-employed rather than employed.

These differences in tax are even larger for people working through their own company.

The Review considers that this situation is not justified, or sustainable, nor is it conducive to the goal of a good work economy, mainly because self-employed people generally enjoy the same protections as employed people, yet pay less tax.

Chapter 10 deals with the issue of self-employment, making the following recommendations:

  • Making it easier for self-employed people to take up traditional employment alongside their self-employed work.
  • Encourage flexible benefit platforms tied to individuals, not companies.
  • Encourage the self-employed to save more.
  • Move towards non-cash transactions to avoid ‘cash in hand work.

Chapter 11 – the relationship between education, training and work

The government’s main strategy for boosting work related training in the last decade has been increasing the number of apprenticeships – and it is now committed to providing 3 million of them (I assume running concurrently).

Apprenticeships are now partially funded through an ‘apprenticeship levy’ which is now placed on large employers (with a pay bill of over £3 million) in order to encourage them to take on apprenticeships (the arguing being if they’re paying for it, they may as well benefit from it!). However the report argues that a blanket level this isn’t fair as some large organisations simply don’t use apprentices, while some smaller firms (who don’t pay the levy) might.

The report also expresses concerns (almost as if Apprenticeships are a bit of a red-herring) about the radical decline of in-work training – only an extreme minority of those currently in-work have any kind of updating or progression training in recent years.

There is also concern about the growing difference between the type of education/ skills people have and the kind of skills required for work. At the top end, there are too many graduates and not enough graduate jobs, and at the bottom end there are too many very low-skilled people.

Another thread in this chapter is the need to equip workers with the skills that enable them to transition from job to job, because most people will switch job several times in their careers, and so learning how to reskill is crucial. A related point here is that the government needs to commit more to ‘lifelong learning’.

Finally, schools and colleges need to do more to teach ‘soft skills’ through courses and provide work experience, to get pupils ready for the real world of work.

Very finally, the report recommends banning unpaid internships because these are so damaging to social mobility.

Chapter 12: Opportunity to Progress

This chapter firstly deals with atypical workers – those most likely to be in low paid, temporary, part-time or gig work – namely women and younger people, arguing that there are sufficient legal instruments already in place to protect these workers, and the only recommendation it makes is to change the regulation on statuary sick pay to make sure that the very lowest paid workers have a right to it.

In terms of progressing (in one’s career) the report doesn’t really say very much here – other than it is possible to ‘progress’ while doing flexible work, and that self-employment might be an important element here.

Final chapters

The report rounds of with going over its seven recommendations for making work fairer, which I summarised in this post.

Overall summary: how to make work ‘work’ for more people

The overall message seems to be that work is fine for most people, and that in general there’s sufficient regulation in place to protect most people.

Some of the ‘stand out’ specific recommendations the report makes are:

  • To give ‘temporary and flexible workers’ more rights and protections:
    • To reduce the period (currently 26 weeks) of time before ‘temporary workers’ get the same protections as permanent workers
    • To give temporary workers the right to request a permanent contract after a certain period.
  • To clarify the difference between ‘worker’ and ‘self-employed’ so that employers can’t exploit people.
  • To force companies to be more explicit and transparent about their terms of employment for temporary and flexible workers.
  • To make the self-employed pay more tax.
  • To get schools and colleges to better prepare pupils for a life as a ‘portfolio worker’.

 

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