Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the AAT

‘No time for time fillers’

The Government’s intention, laid out in the Education and Skills Bill, to ensure that more 16-18 year olds have direct access to high quality practical training, is undeniably a good one. All of our young people should have the equal opportunity to take work-relevant courses that prepare them for employment – and, in fact, they already do.

That’s the irony. In trying to extend this opportunity and choice through legislative measures, I fear that the Bill’s bureaucratic detail will – rather than increasing options – actually narrow them.

The main issue lies in the Government’s desire to enshrine in legislation the amount of time a young person must spend in guided learning – that is, directly supervised learning (excluding homework or other unsupervised study). There are currently a wide range of vocational courses available at Levels 2 and 3, which give young people a broad choice of career options when entering the employment market.

Some of these require more guided learning time than others, ranging from 100 to 500 hours, but all result in recognised skills-based qualifications that are respected and valued by employers.

However, Clause 8 of The Education and Skills Bill requires that a 16-18 year old in work must pursue training with a minimum of 280 hours Guided Learning Time, a calculation that is overly simplistic.

If the objective is to ensure high quality and appropriate training, then this requirement will only act as a blunt instrument and carries the risk of preventing young people from accessing good quality, established courses that do not meet the 280 hours minimum.

It also implies, against all reason, that there is a single amount of input that is appropriate for all learners. Supposing you learn fast? Do you have to remain corralled in the classroom until you have served the required hours? Surely learning should be measured in terms of output, rather than input? What matters is the opportunity to attain qualifications that are valued in the labour market, not the number of hours spent in directed learning.

If there must be a stated measure, at least let it instead be in terms of ‘learning time’, which would then encompass non-classroom or non-directed self-study. The current proposals are yet another example of process getting in the way of common sense.

The Bill needs to change and change now. To make amendments after it is passed will be too late as education institutions are making decisions now as to which courses they will offer and this could limit the options available to employers and their staff.

While we understand the desire of Government to find a measure that ensures that young people in work are taking up genuine opportunities for learning and skills development, the rules should not prevent them from following the most appropriate vocational training.


Jane Scott Paul is Chief Executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). The AAT is the leading qualifications and membership body for accounting staff and its well-known Accounting qualification represents three in every five enrolments on (Level 4) business-related qualifications in the UK.* (* ‘Further Education and the delivery of higher-level qualifications’, LSC – March 2008)

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