From education to employment

MP Mark Field Recognises Education’s Importance to Britain’s Future

In the build up to the general election that has just passed, FE News were fortunate enough to be able to speak with Mark Field MP, who went on to successfully defend his majority in the City of London and Westminster constituency.

Following his campaigning for his seat and his new appointment as Shadow Minister for the Treasury (together with all the work that this entails), Mr. Field made the time available to talk with us again about Further Education and Britain’s place in the world in the coming century.

The World Today

Sitting in the cafeteria in Portcullis House amidst the hustle and bustle to be expected a mere ninety minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr. Field was engagingly frank about his party’s performance in the election in May. He drew attention to the successes enjoyed in London (notably in Putney) but recognised that the Conservatives had “not done enough” to convince the electorate to return them to overall power.

Mr. Field was at pains to point out, as he had in his previous meeting with FE News, that he saw Further Education as something that should fall outside the political arena, and that for Britain to achieve lasting success it would be vitally important to form a “cross ““ party consensus” on educational policy. He recognised that this would of course have teething troubles, and commented that, as always, all disagreements “would boil down to funding”.

The Local Versus the National

Mr. Field welcomed the coming reviews on Further Education, both the Sir Andrew Foster Review of the Future Role of Further Education Colleges and the Treasury’s Leitch Review examining the skills expected to be required by employers in 2020. When asked about the length of the projection, with the comment that it might be more useful to have an even longer term view, he demonstrated his commitment to not allowing parochial party concerns to dictate policy by supporting the 2020 target date.

This supports his previous statement that the days of a single skills set being sufficient for an entire working life are over, with the aging population and fast pace of change in skills demands meaning that employees may well need to “retrain three or four times in their working life”. And Mr. Field stressed the need for a locally effective approach to Further Education provision, pointing to the diversity in his own constituency and the need to tailor the education provision not just to the demands of the employer but also to the demands of the learner.

Not Euro ““ Sceptic; Global

Mr. Field also turned to the conventional and stereotypical view of the Conservative Party as primarily anti ““ European. As his papers have recently suggested (such as the article dated the 1st of July on his personal website entitled The European Union; Why It Has Lost It’s Direction) he does not see further integration as the best way forward, seeing it as out of date to join a “French ““ German co ““ axis”¦protectionist economic policy” of the sort that he has long argued represents “inward looking attitudes” which are damaging Europe’s relative position.

A theme that ran throughout this meeting, as it had the previous meeting, is the need to meet the challenges of the emerging economic giants of China and India and guarantee that the British workforce is not under ““ equipped to meet this challenge. In this, he looks to the FE sector to progressively enhance skills and learning, saying that unless we possess the required skills the nation will haemorrhage investment and jobs to those economies better equipped to offer the trained and flexible workforce required.

Jethro Marsh

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