Millions have left school “without the basics” in a decade, said Gove. So why hasn’t the DfE found the evidence yet?

Janet Downs's picture
“Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job”

Michael Gove, BETT Show, January 2012, repeated in TES, 4 October 2013.

Gove’s statement raises two questions:

1         What is a “decent job”?

2         What are “the basics”?

The answer to the first could be something like this: A decent job is one which is legal and honest, where the employee isn’t exploited and is remunerated fairly.

The second question could be answered differently.  Some politicians believe anyone without 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English hasn’t acquired “the basics”.  Sections of the media go further – anyone without 5 “good” GCSEs is not just lacking “the basics” but is functionally illiterate and innumerate.

Both of these statements are wrong.  The Office of National Statistics (ONS*) says Level 1 qualifications, which include GCSE Grades G-D as well as Level 1 vocational exams, would gain entry to “Elementary Occupations”:

“Occupations classified at this level will usually require a minimum general level of education (i.e. that which is acquired by the end of the period of compulsory education).”

The ONS, therefore, would interpret Gove’s statement as referring to those school leavers who left school without at least a GCSE grade G or equivalent.

I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Department for Education (DfE) on 7 October 2013 asking for the number of school leavers who left school without at least a GCSE G or equivalent for the years 2001/02 to 2010/11.  I specified this particular decade because Gove first made his remark in January 2012 so must have been referring to the ten years up to and including 2011.  I also asked if the DfE would let me know what Gove meant by a “decent job”.

I realize asking for Gove’s definition of a “decent job” is outside the scope of FoI law.  However, I would have expected the DfE to have given me the requested figures by now.

It hasn’t – and the FoI response is  overdue.  I’ve twice reminded the DfE that it should have replied by 4 November but I’ve had no response.

My last reminder (16 November) said:

“It is now five working days since I wrote reminding you that a response to my request was already overdue. Would it be fair to say that there is no evidence which underpins Gove's assertion that "millions" have left school without "the basics" (ie less than GCSE grade G) in the decade up to 2011?”

When I eventually receive a response I will post it on this site.  Will the missing millions turn up?  Or are they in the phantom schools?

UPDATE 22 November 2013

The TUC defines a "decent job" as "one that enables someone to work and live in conditions of dignity, freedom, equity and security".  Thanks to Barry Wise for supplying  this information.


*ONS SOC2010  Volume 1: Structure and Description of Unit Groups can be downloaded here.
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