Applicants get a government-backed gap year

The Department for Education has published details of a package of support for students who have had to defer entrance to higher education because of the examnishambles.

Described as a “range of opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements, obtain additional learning and get career development support”, it delivers on the promises made to the press back on September 1st – that a range of “interesting and rewarding” opportunities would be created for school leavers who have to wait until 2021 to go to university.

Now, in entirely unrelated news, the other day it was my brother in law’s birthday. His present hadn’t been delivered, so we decided to scrabble around and make him up a shoe box of tat from around the house. Two salted caramel twixes. A slinky spring. A near date box of Fondant Fancies. That fortnight’s Private Eye. You know. Something at least to open pending delivery of his real present.

There are three categories of opportunity being announced here in my inbox at 7.46pm on a Friday – government, voluntary sector and private sector.

First, the NHS is actively recruiting healthcare support workers, and the Department for Health and Social Care will be “encouraging” these students to apply. There’s also the National Tutoring Programme roles, where competition “is likely to be considerable” but “talented school leavers would be welcome to apply” in November.

You can guess how that email exchange went between mandarins.

Do you have any jobs for this lot?”.

Well of course they would be welcome to apply, but…”

Alternatively there’s 1,000 extra places on the Ministry of Defence’s University Officer Cadets. This group participates in a wide range of military and leadership training and “are paid for the activity they undertake” – at roughly the minimum wage and at an intensity that full time students can manage alongside studies.

That’s it for paid roles with government (!) but there’s still other things to do. The National Careers Service has “just introduced a range of new initiatives”, but we’re not told what they are. Network Rail will invent some work experience placements once they’re back in offices and need the kettle boiling. DfE’s “Skills Toolkit” will enable deferring students to access free courses. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is developing a “dedicated seminar programme”. The Home Office will encourage these students to become special constables. You get the jist.

In the actual Civil Service, the Fast Stream and Early Talent Schools teams are able to offer 100 “one week virtual work experience opportunities” based around a fictional scenario that “provides participants with an insight into what goes on in government and the Civil Service”, and in the process participants will “develop skills in analysis, prioritisation, debating and negotiation, risk management, reporting, and potentially virtual team working”. Imagine the fun!

Welcome to our fictional scenario, everyone. Tens of thousands of students are told to take a gap year when the minister has spent all summer telling them there’s no jobs or international travel, there’s no money around, and the minister has told the press there will be a government backed gap year scheme. What do you do?”

If none of that takes your fancy, students are told that they can volunteer in hospital retail outlets and community services; apply for a 12-week placement on the Prince’s Trust Team programme; or be “connected” to National Citizens Service partners for roles between September and December.

And if none of that takes your fancy, in the private sector you are told you could help out at a coronavirus testing centre, or take part in a Bombardier work placement in Derby.

Of course if you’re a poorer student, almost nothing in this “petrol station compilation album” of a package is going to help much. And oddly, the DfE briefing doesn’t mention that if the university couldn’t fit you in, but your Centre Assessed Grades meant you should be going to university this year, you’re entitled to compensation – which DfE should be funding universities to offer given it caused the mess.

Maybe they forgot to put it in, and it’ll be edited in on Monday. It’s been a long week for everyone.

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