From education to employment

Prime Minister’s question time highlights education policy focus

Britain is “languishing” at number 18 in the OECD skills league tables despite educational improvements in the international education league tables.

Fiona Mactaggart [Lab, Slough] this week questioned Prime Minister Tony Blair on how he planned to push the UK further up the table: “The educational improvements that the Prime Minister has referred to have led Britain to improve its position in the international education league tables, but we still languish at number 18 in the OECD league tables for skills”.

“What does the Prime Minister plan to do to improve the skill levels of youngsters in this country?”

Mr Blair acknowledged the position, highlighted most recently by Lord Leitch in his final report submitted at the close of 2006, noted for its emphasis on employer focused demand-led training.

He said: “What my hon. friend says is absolutely right, and the two things that will be important are: Firstly, the additional investment in schools which will run into hundreds of millions of pounds in the next few years, and also that we are moving to the new system of vocational education which will allow a far better choice for youngsters at the age of 14 to opt for a high-quality stream of vocational education”.

“That is what we need to do. We have very much focused on lifting academic standards and there has been considerable success on that, although there is a lot more to do. We now need to have the same focus on vocational education, and the combination of the money and the reform over the next few years should deliver results”.

Mr Blair spoke earlier this week on the back of Sir Digby Jones” warning over the current lack of basic skills amongst adults.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Education and Skills Secretary Sarah Teather, commented on the debate: “To really turn around Britain’s skills deficit the Government needs to take a wide-ranging approach and back up rhetoric with resources. The Leitch Report placed the emphasis for re-skilling the workforce firmly on employers. But if the Government does not offer financial support and incentives there is little hope that the necessary training will occur on the scale needed”.

She added: “For those who have already left school, so-called leisure courses are often the route back into education. The Government is making a grave mistake in continuing to underestimate the value of adult learning courses for reaching out to the unskilled and getting them back into the classroom”.

Vijay Pattni.

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