From education to employment

But Will the Changing Priorities Ostracize Learners, asks Daniel Wallis

The provision of free training for 19-25 yr olds seems an important point of the paper. It has to be acknowledged that, for many of those in need of training, cost is an important factor in the choice to take up further education; there will be some who will now be able to consider training where before they would have been initially disabled by the cost.

There are fears that this provision of free training for the young will ostracize older students, who may feel that there is “no point” in pursuing training if they have missed the free window; also they, along with the learning providers, may have to pick up the cost of giving this new free education.

There are also concerns that this extra cost will cramp provisions for students with disabilities or special needs; not only will funding be required to teach young students for free but there will be less emphasis on students whose disabilities prevent them from being as desirable to businesses as non-disabled students. Colleges teach skills in order to enrich the lives of people of all ages and help them to work better; the new reforms however, seem to favour businesses more than students.

Education and Business

As businesses are encouraged to define course contents, it becomes clear that they will only be interested in funding skills that they in particular require; a company’s vacancies should not dictate the content of its local college’s courses. Will this attention to business desires really provide the diversity of skills the white paper hopes for? Britain is already close to becoming a nation of accountants only.

If businesses can dictate the behaviour of colleges in such a way, then it seems only equitable that they should increase their contribution to learning providers, who will be providing the training that companies must have anyway. The attracting of “high flyers” and the threat of funding cuts to under-performing colleges simply serves to emphasize the empowerment of businesses and the constriction of colleges; perhaps learning providers will benefit more from government support rather than criticism and regulation.

One Big Happy Inspectorate?

The merging of the ALI with Ofsted appears to be a more efficient move in terms of centralized control, but will it benefit learners as much as it benefits government? It does not seem to benefit employers: in a press statement of December 2005 the Institute of Directors voices its support of the ALI due to its “successful contribution to improving the quality of adult learning and training.” It continues to state that “the government seems to have completely ignored the views of employers”, surely the opposite of the enhanced college to business relations the white paper promotes.

There are further fears that the merger will mean a greater emphasis on Ofsted’s other areas of concern, such as children and schools, coming at the expense of further education; as it is and probably always will be associated primarily with schools, businesses may be less inclined to pay for its services.

All of this just seems to add further ambiguity to the role of further education in Britain. Is it primarily targeted for young people, who now receive free training and are inspected by the same body that reports on schools, or is it the tool of life-long learning, especially at a time when the government is “encouraging” older people to enter the workforce? Is it purely to give people business training, with colleges failing to collect adequate business links being punished, or is it the seat of education for anyone above school age?

FE’s identity crisis will not end here, it seems.

Daniel Wallis

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