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Conservative MP for Henley-on-Thames waxes lyrical about education

“I”ve been around a lot of FE colleges. I think as a society, and a country, we get our knickers in a twist about the distinction between vocational education and academic education, and I think it’s about time we got out of this mindset. I think that there are all sorts of ways in which so-called vocational education can be immensely intellectually stimulating, and there are all sorts of ways in which so-called academic education can be of fantastic practical purpose.

“I think we need to stop separating human beings into two categories of learner. It’s complete rubbish! There’s a huge range of interests and aptitudes that we need to encourage. I also see the point of stimulating people from a pretty early age to start acquiring skills at school. We talk about the skills agenda, and all this sort of nonsense, but in what sense is a skill different from an academic discipline. I”m not certain we”ve thought this through properly. I think we see a skill as being, for example, the ability to work a lathe, an understanding of mechanics, or how to repair a car. There’s an element of dismissiveness in our concept of a skill. I think that’s completely wrong, and its an artificial distinction.

“I”m just fed up with all of that. We need to encourage much more variety and to keep on learning. I think we need to look at the 44% who leave school at 16 and then go neither into training or education, and that’s the real problem this country has got. We just don”t have the numbers that say, someone like Germany does, in training and education of any kind. That’s what we need to work on.

“I”m a sceptic about endless new training programmes because there are so many of them. What you learn in a job is so much more valuable than any amount of theoretical training that you can do. In a way, and this may sound totally mad, this money that’s spent on training in the abstract, like Norman Fowler used to say “Training for training, train people to be trained, training for trained”¦I would think the money would be better-spent subsidising employers and showing them what to do.

“I”ve done a series of jobs, I had absolutely no training for any of them. I never had any journalistic training. For our economy, and for people’s happiness and interest, I think we would be far better off to encourage in-work training.

“You only learn when you”ve got a panic on. You”ve got your back against the wall, and you”ve got to learn, or you”re history. Otherwise the excitement isn”t there. I”m suspicious about the divisions. I don”t want to see a sheep and goat separation of human beings. Everybody can be interested in all sorts of things.

“Whenever people say that “we”ve got too many people doing degrees, we need more people doing skills”, they”re always talking about other people’s children. They never talk about their own children. They want their own children on the mantelpiece. Other people’s children can be plumbers, and pack their bags at supermarkets and get skills. I think we need to break down these distinctions.

“China and India produced 125,000 computer science graduates in 2004, we produced 5000; China has 33% of its university students studying engineering, we have 5%. I”m not saying we need to get up to those sorts of proportions. I actually think there’s a bit of a myth there too.

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“There are two points to be made there. I don”t think there is actually any need to panic. Britain is very competitive at stuff that China and India are not good at. We are fantastically good at these things that everybody always classes as unimportant, like communications, media studies, all these things that actually add tremendous value to these products, once they are invented.

“Britain is very good in the creative industries.

“In the long term, you do need to have a science base. We are looking at ways of increasing the number of kids who study it, and above all, of getting teachers to teach it. That’s the key thing. I see nothing wrong myself, to have financial incentives for science teachers.

“We”ve got to look sharp. China and India are coming up on the inside. We have to compete with these countries. We have to be the knowledge centre of the world.

“I want to pay a particular tribute to Henley College, in Henley. Great, great college!”

Boris Johnson, MP for Henley-on-Thames.

Tomorrow – Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams exclusive with FE News

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