Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mid-Table Obscurity

There's a strange story in the Guardian, with the headline "UK trails Poland and Bulgaria on adults educated to A-level standard" and the subhead "Lecturers' union says European data shows Britain risks languishing in 'mid-table obscurity' due to rising cost of learning".  You don't have to read on to guess that the story is not going to make sense - there are no fees for A-level education at state schools in the UK.

The statistics behind the story are from Eurostat.  The data are described thus:
The indicator shows the percentage of the adult population (25-64 years old) that has completed upper secondary education. The indicator aims to measure the share of the population that is likely to have the minimum necessary qualifications to actively participate in social and economic life. It should be noted that completion of upper secondary education can be achieved in European countries after varying lengths of study, according to different national educational systems.
So it means no more than having attended school or college for two or more years of what in the UK is called the sixth form.

The lecturer's union - the UCU - has its statement in full on its own site.  It is concerned about "the very real possibility that we will slide further down the table as people find it harder to access education following price hikes and restrictions on places."  I can reassure it that university tuition fees will not make it harder for students to complete sixth form studies.

I'd like to read an intelligent discussion about what proportion of the student population could benefit from sixth form studies, how that should be divided between traditional A-levels and vocational qualifications, and what the rest of the 16-18 year-old population should be doing.  We might even learn from a comparison with the rest of Europe.  The Guardian?  Anyone?

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