As a TUC colleague said, who would have guessed this time last year that we would have a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, Ed Miliband would be Labour leader and that Spurs would be in Europe in the Champions League.

Yes, it is a brave person who feels they can be confident about their predictions for 2011.

What I do know is, that unionlearn will still be in business promoting learning to the disadvantaged in the workplace, working with colleges and employers to promote high quality apprenticeships and developing, with employers, high performance working practices building upon the talent and creativity of their staff.

The publication of the skills and schools White papers, also give us some idea of the direction of policy and we await the Wolf review on vocational education. My concern is that it would have made more sense to have had the review first, so that vocational education will not become a bolt-on to the main picture. What we need is an integrated system, giving young people a broad curriculum and offering them a choice of the academic and the practical.

Another concern is that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, seems to be favouring end-of-course examinations to the modular approach which particularly favours people who have work and other commitments. Kathleen Tattershall, the former head of Ofqual, said at a conference at London University's Institute of Education, that it made her very cross when modular systems are equated with being easier. I agree with her that modular examinations have opened up learning to new groups of learners and have been a success. Let's hope that John Hayes, the minister whose brief straddles the departments of education and business, can ensure that policy is joined up.

We at unionlearn will also be taking up with Mr Hayes and his colleagues the parts of their skills strategy which talk about the use of regulatory levers to influence employer investment, such as licence to practice and training levies, both very welcome approaches. If we are to drive up standards and improve skills in these finance-straitened times then employers need to play their part. In 2011, we will build upon pilot projects that have encouraged co-investment in training. The development of green skills is also very much on our agenda for the coming year. The White paper was light on detail in this area; but it is vital to have a strong skills strategy in this emerging part of the economy.

All of the above, comes with the background of major cuts, with FE college budgets being squeezed by 25 per cent and HE by a massive 40 per cent, over the next three years. Next year will be when the coalition government's cuts to councils, resulting in the loss of jobs and vital services, will hit home. This presents challenges for working people and means that unionlearn will have to redouble its efforts in offering support to those who need to upgrade their skills.

We will be rolling out two major campaigns, both joint initiatives with partner organisations. The first Maths4Us is aimed at helping people improve their numeracy and the second Go on: Get online, get a Lifeline is aimed at the 9 million people who do not have the knowledge needed to have access to the internet.

All in all, I don't think I am sticking my neck out too far by predicting that 2011 will be a tough year for us all.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC's learning and training organisation


Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

Learning from the German skills system

Unions can be a bridge to the world of work

Those who need the most must not lose out

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