United Kingdom: ‘Greater emphasis needed on vocational education’

Dr Anthony Seldon is an impressive and irrepressible headmaster. His contributions to the debate about social mobility in the UK and its relationship to the divide between independent and state schools have been extensive and are always thought provoking.

His vision of education is enriched by his broad scholarship and his experiences in both the state and independent sector. If every head in the country were as public spirited and energetic as Dr Seldon, our country’s lacklustre educational performance would be greatly improved.

His latest call for reform, a report he co-authored for the Social Market Foundation entitled “Schools United-Ending the Independent – State School Divide” reflects the emphasis of educational reformers in the last decade by focusing more on school funding and school governance than on curriculum.

The report’s policy solutions are intended to reverse the onset of social sclerosis and educational inequality by making all schools more like successful independent schools.

The report suggests changing the admissions policies and funding of successful state and independent schools. For Dr Seldon, as for Peter Lampl at the Sutton Trust, and as for Michael Gove, lack of social mobility is confirmed by the grip that independent schools and their alumni have on the top universities, the professions and the establishment.

The persistent educational inequalities of opportunity and lack of access of poorer children to our country’s most selective institutions and most desirable professions are indeed a problem and the authors prescribe radical means to make things better, but the solution of these problems would not come close to solving the problem of social mobility in the UK.

The authors appear to forget that, by definition, most people will not attend Oxbridge or the most selective Russell Group Universities. Social mobility in the UK is primarily hampered by a failure to prepare the vast number of young people who may not be going to university with the confidence, skills, qualifications and love of learning to enable them to pursue careers which provide stability, a decent income, and professional or occupational pride and status.

In order to do this, we should not only look at the prospects of very bright poor young people, we should look at countries which focus effectively on the education of those who are not going to university.

Countries where politicians and educators stress the importance of non-university pathways are more socially mobile and more equal. Countries with strong traditions of technical education at secondary level deliver more social mobility. In short, we should begin to worry much more about the confidence, life skills, technical and vocational skills of huge majorities of our young people who are either unable to or uninterested in attending selective universities.

The secondary school curriculum in England and Wales compels all children to study for the same maths and English examinations and imposes a broadly similar curriculum until the age of 16.

The introduction of the Ebacc has imposed a traditional grammar school curriculum on many pupils and has tilted the way we measure and develop the aptitudes of young people decisively in favour of the most academically able and away from those with other abilities and interests, thus strengthening not reducing the inequalities of the status quo.

In countries with higher levels of social mobility like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, pupils are offered technical and vocational pathways which are respected by employers, delivered by schools, and which do not carry the label of “second best”.

Politicians and educational leaders in these countries emphasise the importance and rigour of these alternative curricula, and they invest time, political capital and resources in developing appropriate curricula to develop the different aptitudes of young people.

A brief glance at the relative chaos of our apprenticeship system, the alphabet soup of qualifications and providers, and the failure thus far to create a UCAS system for pathways other than university, reveals that our fixation remains on a minority of pupils, when social mobility can only be substantially enhanced if we work hard on the curricula and pathways of all pupils.

It is in this area of technical and vocational education where the independent sector, and I include Dr Seldon and myself in the sector, has virtually nothing to offer. Independent schools in Britain are, as we say in my native USA, Prep Schools, in this case for university.

Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the report defines success and education exactly according to the parameters set by independent schools and universities As such, despite its seemingly radical, well meant and headline producing suggestions, it actually offers more of the same.

Without serious curricular reform and a shift in our approach to the value and of technical and vocational education, we will continue to fail a large number of young people and fall short of our goal of a fairer and more equal society.

Hans van Mourik Broekman (author) is Principal of Liverpool College

Via The Telegraph 

Read the summary of the SIRIUS Stakeholder meeting on Vocational Education and Training to counter social exclusion.

Read also the recent European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) publication on Keeping Young People in (vocational) education: what works?

Latvia: Association Shelter Safe House

logoOn 30 November 2013, I spoke with Shamla Tsargand from the Association Shelter Safe House in Latvia in order to learn more about the organisation itself and the work Shelter Safe House does in the field of education.

SIRIUS: Why was Shelter Safe House set up?

Shelter Safe House was established in 2007. It was originally designed to assist victims of human trafficking but the board members soon realised that there are other groups of people in need of assistance in Latvia. Shelter Safe House now provides support services to victims of human trafficking, legal immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection status with a focus on social and legal assistance as well as language learning. Language learning is especially important because the language barrier is one of the main obstacles for accessing services and institutions in Latvia, including access to education.

SIRIUS: How is Shelter Safe House run?

photo 1Myself, I have a migrant background, but in general, our organisation is mostly run by locals for migrants. Certainly, everyone is welcome and entitled to become a member. There is only a very small membership fee. The members and the board have annual meetings to discuss the strategic development of the organisation. Most important, however, is our daily work with and by volunteers. For instance, migrants and refugees who have already been living in Latvia for quite some time act as a kind of mentor for newcomers.

Newly arrived migrants and refugees face various difficulties but there is hardly any assistance from the state. Immigration is a rather new phenomenon in Latvia. Unfortunately, there are only fragmented and short-term measures to support newcomers. So far, there is no long-term policy for the integration of migrants and refugees. Shelter Safe House is able to provide support through periodic projects in the scope of European funding and state co-financing. We also operate as a partner to other non-governmental organisations, the state, municipalities, and schools.

SIRIUS: What does Shelter Safe House do in the field of education?

photo 2The biggest problem for newcomers in Latvia is the language. Without some knowledge of the Latvian language, integration is hardly possible and access to education as well as to the labour market is severely limited. Providing Latvian language classes is therefore one of the many activities of Shelter Safe House.

In the near future, we are counting on extending our projects to cover more than the six months we have been able to provide so far. The intermittent provision of classes and assistance is a general problem in Latvia up to a point where people do not see their future in the country and try to leave. We want to encourage our clients to stay, learn the language and bridge the gaps.

We also have a project in the field of vocational training. At the moment, nine people are trained by masters in professions such as hairdressing and cooking with the aim of facilitating integration into the Latvian labour market. At the beginning, the masters received an information session and trainings in intercultural communication from Shelter Safe House. In the scope of the project, I accompany the participants from Iraq and Afghanistan to their theoretical classes in case they need translation of the course material. During the practical training they need to rely on themselves, for example, initially communicating through body language. That way, they have not only learned about their profession but have also considerably improved their language skills already after two months.

SIRIUS: What does Shelter Safe House more concretely do to promote inclusive education?

It is only recently that refugee kids are entitled to attend any school in Latvia, provided that they pass a language test.photo 3 Previously, they were sent to a special school which offered some kind of integration programme and language learning but struggled with regard to quality and inclusive education. The question of targeted support for these children to attend mainstream education is therefore relatively new in Latvia. Currently, we are taking care of a boy who managed to pass the school entry exam but feels excluded and not sufficiently prepared to attend school. We have established classes for kids at Shelter Safe House which are provided once a week by one of our volunteers. They cover not only language but also any other needs the kids have. The classes are set up on a rather ad-hoc basis and rendered possible only because of the commitment of our volunteers, not even in the scope of an official project. That is why we need a long-term solution that is sustainable. Ideally, policies and programmes should be developed for schools to become involved in assisting and integrating migrant kids.

By Katharina Bürkin

Photos from Shelter Safe House Facebook Page and website

Vocational Education and Training to counter Social Exclusion – Stakeholder meeting report

On Friday 22nd November 2013, the Representation of the State of Hessen to the EU hosted a SIRIUS stakeholderLogo Hessen meeting organised by MPG on vocational education and training to counter social exclusion.  This meeting gathered European, national and local stakeholders working in the field of migration and (vocational) education and training to exchange best practices and consider what policies could be implemented to improve the professional and social inclusion of young people with a migrant background across Europe today.

Barriers to access and successful participation of VET

1)      Language: This may be one of the main barriers to VET, especially for newly arrived migrants. However, according to research on school performance, language, together with school grades, are always controlled for and do not significantly influence access or successful participation for young migrants.

2)      Aspirations: Immigrant parents wish for improved social upward mobility for their children meaning that they generally send them to university. In countries where VET is seen as a second choice, such as in Belgium, young immigrants are overrepresented.

3)      Information deficit regarding VET opportunities: How to access VET? Why is it beneficial? Difficulties in finding answers to these questions, and a lack of contacts due to reduced social networks result in less people with an immigrant background applying for VET.

4)      Discrimination: Although there is a lack of robust research on how discrimination affects education, there is information on how it affects the labour market. From this, we can deduce that it is likely to play a role in SMEs.

5)      Structural factors: Deindustrialized areas with fewer jobs in general, are likely to have fewer apprenticeships available.

Information exchange needs to take place to tackle information deficit and influence aspirational choices, for example through information campaigns, job orientation in schools, early internships targeted at migrants and mentoring projects that include parents. Tackling discrimination can be achieved by employing intermediary agencies to aid placement of apprentices, awareness campaigns, mentoring and anonymous applications.

European instruments

The Commission plans to tackle youth unemployment through education in particular. The European Alliance of Apprenticeships aims to aid the transfer of knowledge regarding apprenticeships, such as the identification and sharing of best practices. This is being carried out with the help of Eurochambers who are encouraging national chambers of commerce to partake in this initiative. The Alliance also promotes the benefits of apprenticeships in general and aims to change the mindset of people regarding VET. Stakeholders are being directly asked to make pledges on this issue on the Alliance website, and these will then be promoted through the Alliance.

Additional instruments include:

  • Erasmus+ programme will focus more on apprenticeships – mobility in particular – with the objective of having 6% of VET students mobile by 2020.
  • Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans are currently being developed by Member States in order to set up the Youth Guarantee scheme which aims to offer a good-quality job, apprenticeship, traineeship or education to anyone under the age of 25. The Youth Employment Initiative has gathered €6billion to implement the Youth Guarantee.
  • The European Social Fund has a helpdesk which gives advice on how to use funding for apprenticeship schemes.

The Commission thinks that it is important to bring more attention to the access barriers to apprenticeships currently facing young people with a migrant background. Public employment agencies need to diversify and consider immigrant NGOs and communities as partners. Business chambers need to represent all the self-employed, including migrant entrepreneurs.  Best practices should be gathered in order to give incentives to any countries not yet dealing with this issue.

Examples of good practices given during the meeting include the following:

Focus on migrant-run SMEs:

Small migrant-run enterprises need to have someone going to them directly and encouraging them to offer apprenticeships. Chambers of Commerce are a good source of funding for this.

  • For example, the Chamber of Skilled Crafts Frankfurt-Rhein-Main runs a project wherein it contacts SMEs in Frankfurt, particularly migrant-run companies, in order to include them in the dual-training system that is so well-established in Germany. They visit each company individually in order to establish whether or not they have training positions available, and if not, they explain the benefits of offering apprenticeships, thus encouraging many to sign up. At the same time, parents are also informed of how the system works and the benefits of training in skilled craftsmanship.
  • Since 2007, the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, together with the Public Employment Service and the Vienna Employee Promotion Fund offer “Professional advice for ethnic economies”. There are over 100,000 companies in Vienna with active licenses, of which approximately one third are migrant companies. They are motivated to participate, get help training their staff and are supported in the creation of new and additional apprenticeships. Having native speakers (from a Turkish, ex-Yugoslavian or Polish background in particular) on the project team is very important in tackling the information deficit surrounding this issue, as well as utilising pre-established networks.

Raise the appeal of VET:

A positive spin needs to be given to VET, focusing on innovation and competitiveness.

  • The Emilia-Romagna region in Italy has reformed its dual education system since 2011. Due to the large amount of industry in the region, only 15% of students go to university, with the rest taking part in VET and industry directly. Schools and enterprises work closely together in order for students to see direct links between school and employment, and enterprise has played an important role in the reformation of the education system. The large migrant population in the region is appreciated for its language abilities and discrimination is rare in schools.
  • The Jobstarter KAUSA training coordination office for self-employed workers from a migrant background, run by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, aims to improve participation in VET and create additional training positions all around Germany. Currently there are a higher number of positions than candidates, and the matching programme sometimes has difficulties matching desired positions to actual offers. However, the expansion of KAUSA offices around Germany in 2014 should help. 2014 will also see regional Youth Fora taking place to promote VET and job opportunities to young people and their parents. The KAUSA Media Prize is a high-level campaign that awards young journalists who contribute to differentiated reporting on the various education and training paths of migrants in Germany.
  • European-Turkish Business Confederation – UNITEE aims to show new Europeans the advantages of VET. They tackle the stigmatization around VET and promote it as a positive option that allows young people to be more successful on the current labour market. VET needs to be made more alluring, and perhaps linking it to a job guarantee or entrepreneurships might be one way of doing this. They support the idea of entrepreneurship education in schools and the importance of cooperation with civil society, especially businesses.
  • OBESSU has launched a campaign entitledRaise your voice! Stand up for VET!’ in order to raise awareness of VET in Europe amongst students themselves.

Vocational training as an integral part of vocational education:

  • In The Netherlands, although vocational training is a necessary requirement to finish vocational education, undocumented minors were not allowed to do apprenticeships as they did not have permission to work. Fischer Advocaten – Sociaal economische mensenrechten took this issue to court on behalf of a young person from Surinam in order for him to finish his education completely. Supported by Article 2 of the first protocol of the European convention, every child has a right to education, they won the case. Since May 2012, all undocumented students under the age of 18 are allowed to carry out work experience if it is part of their education. Undocumented migrants over the age of 18 however are still fighting for this right.

Involve parents in schooling:

  • A Finnish member organisation of Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU focuses on practices that enhance school-home communication in order to best inform parents about the choices available to their children within the education system. Group leaders speaking different languages are trained to be able to inform other parents regarding schooling options.


Apart from focussing on migrant SMEs, raising the appeal of VETs, facilitating training to undocumented migrants and including parents more in schooling, the following recommendations should be taken into account:

  • The link between stakeholders and practitioners should be strengthened. Civil society, including youth organisations and immigrant organisations, should be considered as strategic partners rather than being just policy targets. Both youth and immigrant organisations can offer extracurricular support activities that give young people experience. Peer to peer learning through mentoring should be supported.
  • Government, businesses, Chambers of Commerce etc. need to cooperate to find a solution for the mismatch of jobs and skills that increase youth unemployment.
  • Resident status constitutes another layer of discrimination which restricts undocumented migrants’ access to VET. This issue must be tackled.
  • Entrepreneurship education needs to be offered from an early age in schools. There are over 260 apprenticeship trades in Germany, for example, and yet everyone always applies to the same 5 or 6. Girls and boys need to be informed that all paths are opened to them, and their parents also need to be given information on VET options.
  • Local and regional authorities need to support migrant organisations and help highlight their positive contribution.
  • Further research needs to be carried out to facilitate statistics regarding the numbers of young children with a migrant background that transition into and drop out of VET.
Adem Kumcu, President of UNITEE
Oliver Diehl, German Federal Minstry of Education and Research



SIRIUS Stakeholder meeting: Vocational Education and Training to counter Social Exclusion – Brussels – 22 November 2013

Logo HessenDate: 22 November 2013

Place: Representation of the State of Hessen to the EU, Rue Montoyer 21, 1000 Brussels

Time: 11:00 – 13:30, followed by lunch

In light of the recent creation of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, SIRIUS is holding a stakeholder meeting to discuss the topic of Vocational Education and Training (VET) for immigrants at a European level.

VET is under the European Commission DG Education and Culture and presents some key priority areas of which equity and social cohesion is one. The aim of this area is to ensure non-discriminatory access to and participation in VET, taking into account the needs of people or groups at risk of exclusion — in particular early school leavers, low-skilled and disadvantaged people (e.g. immigrants).

The event will bring together stakeholders working in the field of migration and (vocational) education and training to exchange information on how to improve the access to and successful completion of apprenticeships by young people with a migrant background in policy and practice.  It will also consider how vocational education and training can be used to improve the professional and social inclusion of young people with a migrant background.

Download Programme

Download Discussion Paper

Download information on EU Alliance for Apprenticeships

Contact scodowd@migpolgroup.com to register.