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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Will Covid-19 vaccines be enough to get the economy back on track, curb youth unemployment, and mitigate mental health effects?.

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 12 January 2021

Golo Henseke.

With the country in the third national lookdown, a Covid-19 free future can sometimes be hard to imagine. But the roll out of first vaccines, albeit slow, does fuel hopes that we can put the health crisis behind us before too long. But how swiftly will the economic recovery follow, and what will this mean for our nation’s young people?

Our new project examining the Covid-19 pandemic’s impacts on youth employment, learning and well-being has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). We will provide robust evidence on the pandemic’s consequences for young people’s employment, learning, and well-being.

A swift economic recovery seems essential to keep people in work or help them return to paid employment. Despite the successful furlough scheme which protected workers from the worst, young people have been hit (more…)

Housing White Paper offers no hope for young people: here's what could

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 February 2017

Andy Green
The Government’s new white paper on housing, entitled ‘fixing our broken housing market’, is not going to fix anything except the share prices of the large private development firms. As Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian: ‘it is a stew of fake news, old clichés and pretend solutions’. It is long on consultation and very short on the radical measures needed to solve the UK’s housing crisis. It dodges all the big issues on reforming housing taxation, including the council tax, regulating rents and tenures, and on public responsibilities for housing provision. Even the very small measures it does propose come hedged with qualifications and get-out clauses.
As our research at the Llakes Centre for Learning and Life Chances shows, home ownership amongst 18-34s is only half of what it was 25 years ago, and the decline has affected all social groups. But the Government’s proposals won’t create the genuinely affordable housing to reverse this trend for young people.
The White Paper’s diagnosis of Britain’s housing crisis is simplistic in the extreme. It claims that the problem is ‘simply’ that we do not build enough homes, because of excessive planning regulation and lack of competition in the building sector. It is certainly the case that we have not been building enough homes, but the wider truth is not so (more…)

Why job insecurity is bad for our health

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 21 November 2016

Francis Green
We live in uncertain times. Eight years on from the Great Recession of 2008, and still one in ten workers across Europe is unemployed – that’s 21 million people. Global growth is faltering and in Europe the “Brexit” decision threatens a prolonged period of adjustment at minimum. It is likely that there will be low growth in Britain for a while, if not a renewed recession, and repercussions elsewhere. What does this uncertainty mean for our well-being and for the demands placed on health systems? Can we do anything to alleviate the potential health fall-out?
For some time now we have known that health can be impaired through unemployment. It can lead to a loss of identity, because many see their job as part of what they are – even if they may sometimes curse it on a Monday morning when facing a long week’s hard work ahead. And of course unemployment also means a loss of livelihood.
But the problem of uncertainty goes well beyond just those people unlucky enough to lose (more…)

Hidden sins of economic crisis: the problem of unhappiness at work

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 March 2015

Francis Green
When the financial crisis and recession hit Britain more than six years ago, many feared for the loss of jobs. Respectable forecasters expected unemployment to reach three million, as it had in the 1980s era of high Thatcherism.
That fate was avoided, but another serious problem has been lurking in the shadows: enhanced fears and anxieties at work, and reduced well-being.
Such fears are not presented in official statistics, so how do we know this? As social scientists here at the Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) we can’t go on what we hear from anecdotes about this or that employer, or group of employees. Instead we use properly conducted surveys. We talked to a nationally representative sample of people in their own (more…)

Yes, there is an alternative to England's bewildering school system

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 November 2013

Peter Mortimore

I have been aware of problems in the education system for as long as I can remember.
As a child growing up in the late 1940s, I was persecuted by the fear of failing the 11+. Both my elder sisters had succeeded and my first brush with probability theory was recognising that similar success for me had to be questionable. And for 80 percent of each generation it was so, with many children bearing this hallmark of educational failure for the rest of their lives.
One of my jobs as a young teacher was in a school with 12 classes streamed on the basis of three timed tests. The validity and reliability of such assessment was highly questionable, yet it determined the course of future lives. One of my – very clever – pupils moved up a stream each year but, because he only stayed for the five years of compulsory secondary schooling, never even reached the upper half.
As a classroom researcher in the 1970s I sat through hours of lessons often in poorly designed, uncomfortable classrooms.  Some lessons were stimulating but others were desperately boring regurgitations of an uninspiring syllabus.
Today the education system, in many ways, is much improved.  Yet urban eleven-year-olds and their parents face a bewildering array of schools. City parents, in such a market economy, have to gamble on which preferences to express, taking into account their geographical location, the SATs results of their offspring, their religious (or non-religious) leanings and their willingness to pay for private tuition.
Academies – answerable only to the Secretary of State – founded with the noble aim of providing a better deal for poor children (just like the “public schools” of past centuries) are re-positioning themselves and using their generous resources to attract pupils with the best odds of success. Free “parent-led” schools are popping up even where there is ample provision and are frequently dedicated to particular faiths. Exams appear to be growing more difficult and universities are getting more expensive. Most sadly, English childhood appears to be much less happy than that of many of our neighbouring countries.
The English education system seems as far from a universal, inclusive, system as it ever was. Yet, the best teaching I have seen anywhere has often been in England and, in general, schools seem well-led. I believe these problems have been caused by recent governments’ (from all political parties) determination to turn the education system into a competitive market economy complete with league tables and punitive inspections.
In contrast, the Nordic school systems that I have observed operate in a different, happier, culture. They provide high quality pre-school provision and admit children into school one or even two years later than in England. The pace of learning is more relaxed and, wherever possible, failure is avoided.  Nordic young people continue developing and frequently overtake the ‘English early starters’ and become well-educated adults.
So what can we do to improve the system?  How can we learn from our North European neighbours? How can we draw on the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of our current arrangements?  And how can we persuade our Government to create a fairer, happier and more effective education system better suited to life in the 21st century?
My proposals are to try and ensure greater fairness in the system:
• Fairness in all funding: no more favoured schools getting large bonuses. The only payment above actual costs should be an extra sum for pupils with special needs.
• Fairness in governance – with all schools having uniform powers and working within the same national context.
• Fairness in what can be taught – with a limited National Curriculum available to all pupils.
• Fairness in licence to innovate in organisation and pedagogy.
• Fairness in inspections – with the aim being to ensure that all schools are above an acceptable level rather than attempting to fine grade them  on the basis of unreliable – and very limited – knowledge.
•  Fairness in assessment – helping as many pupils as possible reach the highest levels rather than seeking artificially to restrict success on the mistaken Kingsley Amis principle that “more will mean worse”.
•   Fairness in the allocation of pupils to schools so that all schools recruit a “balanced intake” – pupils who find learning easy and those who do not; those coming from relatively advantaged social, cultural and economic family backgrounds and their opposites.
Of course these are huge challenges. My suggestions require much elaboration and refinement. They will be resisted by the politicians associated with the current system and by parents satisfied with the privilege enjoyed by their children. Other people will have to be convinced that what is proposed will be better.
But such a set of ideas offer a chance of solving the worst problems and of creating a fairer education system better suited to life in the 21st century.
I’ll be talking about these ideas at a seminar at the IOE on 10 December. hope you will come along and contribute to the discussion.

Falling pay, less happiness at work

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 13 August 2013

Francis Green
Two months ago the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed that the cuts in real wages in Britain over the last few years of stagnation have been the deepest since records began. And now figures collated by the House of Commons Library show that the cuts put Britain fourth from the top of Europe’s league of wage cuts, an unenviable record.
Still, some might say that many people have at least still got jobs. Three million unemployed was the forecast, but we remain still well below that. Perhaps those still in jobs are happy to have survived?
Far from it. The 2012 Skills and Employment Survey (pdf) shows that there has been a substantial drop in job-related well-being in recent years.
Since 2001 a research team has been periodically collecting nationally representative data. Using scales devised and validated by psychologists that capture the complex feelings that people express about their work, the trends in the index of “Enthusiasm” and in the index of “Contentment” can be plotted.  These show that, whereas between 2001 and 2006 nothing much altered, between 2006 and 2012 there were some big changes. The diagram here shows how matters have gotten worse. It looks at the low end, giving the proportion of workers registering low degrees of Enthusiasm or Contentment below a certain threshold. As can be seen, there was a big jump in the proportion with low Contentment, from 15% to 19%, and a small rise in the share registering low Enthusiasm.
This means that there were many more jobs where people were reporting that their job frequently caused them to be worried, anxious, or depressed, and fewer where their jobs gave them contentment and enthusiasm.
We also used a measure of job stress, obtained by averaging responses on a 6-pt scale to three questions about the frequency of experiencing “worry about job problems”, “difficulty to unwind at the end of a work day”, or “feeling used up at the end of a work day”. We defined “high” job stress as where a worker responded “much”, “most” or “all of the time”. There was a large rise in the share of workers with high job stress, from 12% to 17%. This means that, across the country as a whole, there were nearly five million workers in the “high stress” category in 2012.
Why have people become unhappier at work? At the IOE’s LLAKES centre we have analysed the data to try to find out exactly what has been happening inside people’s jobs. We have found that part of the reason is that employers have been accelerating the pace of workplace change – including restructuring work organisation – and downsizing the numbers of other workers in the job. Such changes are detrimental for workers’ well-being. Another part is associated with increased work intensity, and employees’ decreasing sense that they have a say in matters that affect the way they do their work. Our worker respondents told us that they were having more meetings than before; but they were not being listened to as much.
A third part is down to the increased job insecurity that people are feeling. The risk of job loss is a source of stress in the workplace.
Yet fears in the workplace extend beyond just the fear of losing the job. They include the fear of being unfairly treated, and we have found that fears of unfair treatment (pdf) have risen dramatically since 2000, especially in the public sector. And in addition, as we now learn, most workers have been experiencing cuts in their pay, a change which is likely to have added to the feelings of depression and concern.
Of course, it is not all gloom and doom. Many employees have been able to do well enough in all sorts of jobs, despite the stagnating macroeconomic environment. What is clear, however, is that the detrimental effects of economic recession on well-being can be best ameliorated where employers afford their employees a good level of participation and involvement. The research shows that what matters most is direct empowerment of employees in their own jobs, but it also helps if employees can be involved in organisational matters.

The French election – 60,000 teachers can't be wrong

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 17 May 2012

Germ Janmaat
In this month’s presidential elections France elected a socialist, François Hollande. According to The Economist and many other western media the country is now heading for financial meltdown. His election programme, if carried out, is said to represent a lethal cocktail of policies that will shatter the trust of the financial markets. If we are to believe these sources, M Hollande promised the French electorate to renounce the Eurozone austerity treaty, to lower the pension age by two years and to dramatically increase taxes for the rich.
A closer scrutiny of his promises, however, shows that he has no intention of challenging the existing budgetary rules of the treaty. He does want to add a growth and investment component to it. As to the pensions, he promised to lower the pension age only for those who have worked for 40 years or more. Regarding the taxes, he proposed  a 75% band for earnings over 1 million euros and a Tobin tax on large corporations and banks.
Why this deliberate misrepresentation of his campaign promises? Probably because it is the Pavlovian reaction of media that have become unaccustomed to the idea of a politician proposing a classical Keynesian recipe to overcome the economic crisis. Over the last two decades the neoliberal rhetoric of competitiveness and lean-and-mean government has become so powerful that any real alternative is immediately branded as completely out of order.
Yet it’s worth seeing things in perspective. Not only are there scores of economists who argue that the eurozone countries cannot work themselves out of the crisis with austerity measures alone, but even David Cameron and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde have recognised that a stimulus component is needed. Moreover, reality does not exactly comply with the easy assumption that competitiveness depends on small government. The Scandinavian countries and Germany, for instance, combine high levels of social spending with good performance on key indicators of competitiveness, such as innovation, unemployment and inflation.
But perhaps most important is the message of hope M Hollande extends to the young generation – 60,000 extra teachers and an increase in the minimum wage. These policies at least go some way towards alleviating the plight of the young. Let us not forget that it is precisely the young who are most affected by the current economic crisis. Everywhere youth unemployment is reaching record levels. Never before has it been so difficult for first time buyers to take their first step onto the property ladder.
Research from the IOE’s ESRC-funded Llakes Centre has shown that young people’s sharply diminished life chances in the current age of austerity are damaging social cohesion and affecting young people’s attitudes towards democratic processes. Does it mean that many youngsters have turned their backs on liberal democracy altogether? Or does it represent a temporary loss of faith that can easily be restored when economic conditions improve? What can education do to rebuild trust and engagement? These are key questions informing LLAKES research for the time to come.