From education to employment

Policy, politicians and the press

It has been a tough time for the media over the last few months. Hackgate has put newspapers in the spotlight – they no longer just cover the news, they are the news. With the practices of the press hitting the headlines, the Parliamentary Skills Group thought the time was right to consider the role of journalists in education and skills policy.

Education policy has always been a political hot potato. Not everyone may have a view on the finer points of school funding formulae, but people do care about the school down the road. In his 1976 Ruskin speech, Jim Callaghan famously called for a great debate about the purpose of public education. It has become common for politicians to repeat this call, but if we are ever to have this debate, we need journalists of all types, covering education of all types.

Tony Blair once said that if he declared war on Iran in a speech with ‘skills’ in the title no one would notice! I believe things have moved on – thankfully – since then. Education and skills are more talked about in the media now.  A lot of noise is now being made about apprenticeships, and the press is beginning to bite. But still too often it seems to be the case that unless you’re struggling to get into Oxbridge or campaigning against a new faith school, you just aren’t newsworthy. Good news on skills and education doesn’t make headlines.

FE News is great. But surely we can’t just rely on specialist publications? Fewer educational supplements and less space in the dailies means we are in danger of doing just that. Education is too important not to be considered headline or prime time. Surely now’s the time for education and skills to take centre stage?

As politicians in the all party skills group we know all too well that we are often to blame for the underreporting or bad reporting of education and skills. The language we use, the initiatives we launch, the impenetrable policy frameworks and regulation we often create do little to foster substantive debate – let alone Callaghan’s Great Debate. But journalists have a role too. Not just as commentators, but as participants. Parliament only works when it is held to account by serious journalism. A strong Parliament needs strong journalism.

It’s time for politicians to get real about what we can expect from journalists – no more easy headlines, just tough and investigative stories. But its time for journalists to get serious about education, and in particular skills – looking beyond league tables, Oxbridge and celebrity free schools. There is a whole other educational world out there.

Over the rest of this Parliament, the Parliamentary Skills Group will be building on our strong research base and setting out our own cross-party manifesto for skills. The media will be central to this work. We will be working hard to push a great debate inside and outside Parliament with everyone – young and old – who have something to say. We want the media to be gripped by the Skills Factor.

Nic Dakin MP is Co-Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Skills Group

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