From education to employment

Conservatives Question Stand – In Geoff Hoon on International Education and the new White

The stand ““ in for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon (Leader of the House of Commons), faced questions on education today as the Tories began to respond to the latest education White Paper.

The original White Paper was announced by Ruth Kelly MP, the Secretary of State for Education, on Tuesday where she received a raucous reception. Indeed, the reception was so vocal that the Speaker of the House had to ask for quiet to allow her to finish her statement. Interestingly, the comments from the Conservative benches seemed to focus on their belief that this policy statement was leading back towards former Conservative policies.

And today, with the Prime Minister in Strasbourg to address the parliament there and the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott also abroad on business associated with the British Presidency of the European Union, it fell upon Geoff Hoon MP, the former Minister for Defence and currently the Leader of the House of Commons, to take up the weekly roll at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The New White Paper Questioned

The latest White Paper, on Secondary Education, came in for a sustained attack from the Conservatives, whose Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling seemed eager to assist Mr. Hoon with answers to questions he himself asked, referring twice to figures before him on what he sees as a failure of the government to put into practice promises on education delivery. As he asked, “Why should anyone believe in the reforms this time?”

In response, Mr. Hoon brought the assemblage’s attention back to the changes that had been needed urgently in the aftermath of what he called the “run down of education” under the conservatives. He called some of the Tory initiatives and decisions whilst in office “disastrous”, and praised the performance of his colleague Ruth Kelly the previous day in setting out the case for the Government’s new programme of development and reform.

Looking Overseas

One question that was raised by a Labour MP was that of the growing quality of the education being provided in countries such as China and India. The MP referred to the high quality of the graduates in these countries, particularly in developing fields such as bio ““ technology, and asked Mr. Hoon whether there is any movement towards examining the policies that make such success possible.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hoon expressed his great pride in the British education system and stated that it delivers at the highest level which is recognised around the world. Indeed, he cited figures indicating that the attendance of overseas students was significant, with some 41,550 students from China and 12,060 from India in the system this year.

It is notable that there was a conspicuous lack of response to the question, a worrying observation to make in the light of the recent statement that the UK is suffering from a growing skills gap. Many companies already “out ““ source” much of their employment, and if there are lessons to be learnt from abroad then the time to do so seems to be accelerating into the distance. One possible policy decision that may need to be reconsidered is that of removing one modern language from the compulsory curriculum at GCSE, as language skills will be one of the most marketable and most valuable in a shrinking world.

Jethro Marsh

What would you have asked Mr. Hoon? Tell us in the FE Blog

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