27th August 2014

Almost as regular as the annual hullabaloo about exam results are employers' complaints about the suitability of British school and college leavers for work. There appears to be two complaints; that schools are not teaching for life skills but at the same time Britain is falling behind in skills gaps. This has an inherent contradiction; that education is both too general and too specific. But their real beef is that educators are not providing job specific training. Even if there was enough time for such a notion it would it would still be unrealistic as the world of education and work is different. The first of these is that education is journeying into the new where a lot of work consists of repetitive tasks. Secondly in education what is right or wrong is universally understood and marked accordingly whereas in the world of work some questions are left to the judgement of individual. No improvement in either the education system or exams will cure this. In the past this transition between education and work was covered by an apprenticeship or starting in the mail room where status and timekeeping are also introduced. The CBI comments seem more to be reflection on the attitudes of skills and training than the state of British education, where they expect individuals to drop into jobs and experience is generally an unwanted expense.

When it comes to exams we should not be to seduced by the performance of the far-east. In the 1980's and 1990's it was Japanese students who were the ones to watch but if growth for all this activity it has not provided them with any real advantage over the last 20 years. But this is to assume that education is purely about growth. Much of the difference comes down to cultural and teaching methods. Even the supporters of Michael Gove's attempts to return education back to the 1950s would find much in the 12 hour days and rote learning. As for the former educational secretary's reforms, the jury may be out for some but the recent exam results on the face of it appear a little surprising where the English pass rate fell but for Maths, which most British school children are uncomfortable with, rose.

Note: As someone who failed the 11 plus but went on to gain get an engineering degree I have always have had a healthy suspicion of the relative values of exam results.

16th August 2014

The latest Eurozone statistics show continuing bad new with Germany and Italy, first and third largest economies in the zone, contracting and France seeing no growth at all. In a similar vein inflation also remains low. All in all the Eurozone saw zero growth in the second quarter with expected yearly growth struggling to reach 1.2%. A number of reason have been given and austerity and the debt overhang cannot be helping but the real villain are the low rates of interest charged. Whilst cheap money is usually considered a standard panacea for a struggling economy what they very rates are doing is constraining the growth in the money supply and thus growth. A familiar argument for anybody who has followed this blog. All this was before the ECB cut the bank rate from 0.25% to 0.15% in June; so expect a further decline in the next quarter's figures.

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