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NIACE Call for White Paper to Tackle Issues in an Aging Population

The publication of a Government White Paper always seems to trigger a flurry of response not entirely dissimilar to watching firemen pelt for the truck when the alarm claxon sounds.

In Further Education, this has proven to be the case as the various sector stakeholders have given their approbation or approval to the proposals from the Government outlined in the FE White Paper entitled “Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances”. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) have examined the White Paper and have given their initial findings of what it misses and what it addresses.

Learner Accounts and Train to Gain

The organisation has welcomed the report as a sign that the Government recognise what FE has to contribute economically and socially. The system of adult learner accounts has been praised, as NIACE feel that this will give more control to the learner in the learning process. This is a vital component in what many have called a “learner focussed” White Paper.

“Train to Gain” was also held up as an example of progress, and NIACE have urged the Government to “ensure that public funds do not displace employers” investment” in this scheme offering more training to those already in work. The fear persists that certain employees will remain unconvinced, and NIACE urge the Government to pay particular attention to those individuals. The recognition accorded to the place of public support for personal development and civic participation is also lauded, although NIACE are concerned at the prospect that this could migrate entirely into the voluntary sector.

Level 3 Another Good Idea

The proposed entitlement to free education up to 25 and up to Level 3 is lauded, although NIACE do continue to advise the Government to remove the age “glass ceiling”. The support offered to women, outlined in the Chancellor Gordon Brown’s speech to the Commons when he called the gender pay gap “unacceptable”, is also taken as a further instance that the White Paper demonstrates many good intentions on the part of the Government.

Concern remains, however, at the paucity of attention for adult learning in general. In an aging society, it surprised NIACE that the aging population and numbers of young people were dealt with in a single paragraph. They are also concerned that the White Paper seems to represent an overemphasis on so ““ called “gold plating” qualifications and training for 14 ““ 25 year olds. As NIACE put it in their response, “The scale of the challenge does not seem to be recognised”¦.the DfES is in danger of fiddling while Rome burns.”

With this concern over the perceived neglect for older learners, NIACE will be encouraging their members to respond to the Government by the 19th of June, the deadline for responses to this White Paper. NIACE are encouraging them to ask the question: “If courses for adults are funded from the public purse, from learners” own pockets and from employers in different mixtures depending on subject, level and place, are we investing enough? Is the balance right? And are the priorities right?”

Jethro Marsh

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