From education to employment

NIACE Conference in London Question Government Priorities on FE Strategy

Over 80 delegates swarmed into the glistening heart of London’s urban bohemia yesterday to discuss the key issues for the future of adult learning. Set just yards from Primrose Hill, the congregation gathered with one question on their minds ““ has the government got it wrong?

Organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, the event was a measure to tackle the growing complexity and to address, to some extent, the controversy surrounding the future of adult skills and lifelong learning. Sir Andrew Foster, author of the chastising report brandishing FE as the “neglected middle child” and keynote speaker, delivered what to many felt like a disappointment; his speech lacking direction and initiative in what was heralded as “The Art of the Possible.”

Eight out of Ten

Yet Alan Tuckett, Director for the NIACE, wasted no time wading in, trumpeting their report “Eight out of Ten”. Delivering his speech, he noted how the title of the report reflected the proportion of adults in colleges and that, over the next ten years, adults would fill two in three jobs.

“The cuts from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) over the next 3 years will cost up to a million adult’s learning opportunities”, he said. Addressing this, the report called for three priorities for colleges, including access to employability and a thorough workforce development. Focusing on the key issue of the event, he suggested that the funding be addressed. “Presently, 80% is centrally determined and 20% locally determined”. The proposition was for the government to establish and sustain a statutory framework to secure adult participation. All agreed that funding was of paramount importance ““ the issues were clear cut and easy to orate.

Conflict in Decisions

Yet a peculiar significance emerged from the round table discussions shortly after. “There is a definite clash between the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)”, proclaimed Peter Johnson, Adult Services Manager for the Greater Merseyside Connexions Partnership. The clash he distinguished arose when the former department targeted adults for skills learning, while the latter siphoned the students away into jobs. “Perhaps there should be a hybrid programme with a greater skills and work balance”, opined Kate Watters, Development Officer at the NIACE.

Colin Flint, Director of FE at the NIACE readdressed the morning speech by Sir Foster as Nick Isles took the podium. “I was disappointed with his remarks as we were hoping for some more direction”. Nick Isles, Director of Marketing and Advocacy at The Work Foundation, focused on the importance of viewing skills and adult learning in an increasingly global market. “In terms of context, government policy is incorporated into a European context. And most targets for the EU models have been missed,” he said.

Exemplifying the growing problem, he said: “Up to 200,000 16-18 year olds are not in education, employment or training. 14% of 16-24 year olds have literacy problems below level 1. We need to keep building a system of lifelong learning and need to do more to build an evidence base that education and training actually works”. Addressing the problem, Liz Smith, Director of the Union Academy spoke passionately about the role of the Union Learning Representative. “They promote benefits of, and enthusiasm for learning to the workforce. They support members” learning and establish agreements with employers”.

Fear of Shortlisting

Highlighting an area of concern, she said, “Some workers are afraid of addressing any possible skills shortage to their employer in case they get shortlisted for redundancy”. Again, funding was touched upon. “Who pays? It needs to be revisited. We think employers should pay for training that would ultimately affect the workplace. There should also be some element of state funding.”

Chris Hughes, chairing the panel discussion, signed off the proceedings with an eloquence befitting the conference. As chairman of the FE Committee of Enquiry, he said, “This is a crisis for many because there are deterministic policies from government that are too rigid.” On the problem of an overly controlling management structure, “The problem with centralised decision making is that it brings less centralised results. Each college differs from patch to patch.”

Echoing a recent BBC example for justification, “Social justice must be the prime objective. There is a need to articulate the public values case, not personal development. We need an educated citizenry that know how to be, as well as how to do. An educated citizenry is a pre-requisite for a civil society.”

Vijay Pattni

Is the Government dropping the ball on FE funding? Tell us, fumble or touchdown, in the FE Blog

Related Articles