Sir Alan Tuckett, Centenary Commission vice chair, offers some trenchant views on Gavin Williamson’s white paper, Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth
Once again we have a skills for jobs white paper. Once again it calls for employers to be at the heart of shaping further education in the system. Once again there is nothing on offer to address how best to foster active citizenship, creativity, and the mental well-being of people. Unlike Theresa May’s Industry White Paper there is no recognition that to meet the vastly different needs faced by people living in Redruth or Barrow in Furness, Southend or Sunderland the key to economic prosperity and tor further education policy and practice can only be forged in dialogue with the communities served, as well as with employers.
There is no place in the current vision for the wider educational role of the further education sector. Schools and universities celebrate learning with vocational applications, but they also teach philosophy, ethics, art and music – the tools needed for active citizens. Only FE is denied this breadth. And so yet again, and despite the welter of advice government has received, adult community education is left to wither.
No, what we get is a faith in the power of central oversight – an ever more finely sharpened system of accountability to oversee staff struggling with inadequate budgets. The stick, but no carrots. There is like every White Paper since 1991 a touching reliance on employers – who themselves train and develop staff less than any of their European competitors with woeful consequences for productivity – to shape the answers to our needs.
There are of course things to like – like the delayed access to Lifelong Learning Loans for anyone without a level 3 qualification. But as we wait for 2025 where are the routes from fragile jobs in the gig economy to the sunny uplands of secure employment? Where is the adult guidance system? Where are the first steps for people to re-engage, the outreach programmes that start from where potential participants are.
Yet again this is a centralist fantasy, without adequate resourcing. What a damp squib!