From education to employment

FE’s Vital Role in Employment and Leisure

Further Education has a penchant for jargon and an aptitude for not turning the frown upside down. We at FE News are committed to changing the public perception of FE, and in part two of this new weekly submission, correspondent Paul Anderson takes a personal look at the week just gone in FE.

Quality of Life

Quality of life is notoriously difficult to measure. Indeed, so much so that we sometimes try to measure achievement as a proxy for enjoyment. A friend recently told me that her mother enrolled on a French course at her local further education college out of pure fascination for the subject. As soon as lessons began she was strongly encouraged to work towards an A-level examination, no doubt to prove to the Government that the college was performing as it should.

But further education has another vital role that we should not forget. As well as making us employable and boosting the nation’s productivity, it should show us how we can use our leisure. It should feed all parts of our lives, developing people’s immeasurable, intangible and invaluable assets, like our passions and our interests.

Unfortunately, there are signs that taking their lead from Chancellor’s obsession with productivity, colleges will be under financial pressure to ignore this function of education. There was an ominous statistic in a recent analysis of further education funding, which forecast that there would be a five percent decline in the number of adults attending courses over the next three years. And the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) noted this week in an interview with FE News that fees for non-basic adult courses may have to rise if those courses are to stay open.

Building Communities

It is hard to argue against Government investment in apprenticeships and basic skills training. Basic skills are vital. But further education should not need to step in years late once secondary education has failed. Nor should money be taken away from helping people to do things that happen not to have an immediate economic benefit. This isn”t just a question of fun: people’s hobbies have saved them or brought them back from the ravages of mental illness. Step into any good adult education college and you”ll be somewhere where people can forge new links and build communities.

I shall be amazed if Lord Leitch doesn”t confirm this year that further education should be harnessed as a tool to bolster the nation’s productivity. But I hope that he will also give a passing nod to the wider question of what productivity is for if it doesn”t provide us with more leisure. And what is education ultimately for if it doesn”t give us a better way of using our leisure than simply consuming things?

There is some good news – like the launch this week of the “Sign Up Now” campaign, aimed at encouraging adults to learn new skills in 2006. An award winner from last year captured the excitement and good intentions of a new year perfectly. Her words echoed with enthusiasm: “To learn a new skill, no matter how small, gives an individual a wow factor that you never seem to attain elsewhere. Anyone given the choice of paddling in a stagnant pond or a meandering stream would choose the stream if given enough support and encouragement.”

Education is a social and a personal asset, not just an economic one. It should teach us ways of creating, and not just consuming, in our leisure time. I hope that as Lord Leitch ponders the mix of skills we need to be able to compete with India and China in the coming decades, we will remember the still wider picture: that more productivity should mean more leisure, and education should show us different ways of using that invaluable asset.

I for one may end up tap-dancing.

Paul Anderson

Read Paul Anderson every week right here at FE News!

Related Articles