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After ten years in office, we look back at Blairs contribution to further education

As Tony Blair announces he is stepping down as Prime Minister, the debate about his legacy has begun. At FE News we”ve been asking what he’s contributed to FE during his ten years as PM. When he came into office in 1997, his mantra was “Education, education, education.” So, has he delivered?

Lawrence Miles, chief officer at the IVA, provides an overview of the last ten years: “In the early days of the first Blair Government it was hoped there would be a formal promotion of local partnerships between colleges and training organisations”¦ instead a succession of organisations and initiatives were set up ““ FENTO (now Lifelong Learning UK); Standards for Teaching and Supporting Learning; the Learning Skills Council.

“A National Modern Apprenticeship Taskforce was asked to expand the MA programme and plug the skills shortage in 2003. A year later 93% of FE colleges were behind plans by the LSC to introduce new proposals for funding colleges and reducing bureaucracy. It was felt that the “Success for All” reforms and the Skills Strategy White Paper had made an impact. By 2005 90% of college students and trainees in work-base learning were saying that they liked the new techniques and teaching materials being introduced as part of a £31 million teaching and learning package.

“ The Education Maintenance Allowance was introduced in 2005 with payments of £10-£30 a week to those who continued in training or further education at 16 and who live in a household with an annual income of up to £30K. Many recipients welcomed this initiative.

Now by way of a finale we have Education up to 18 and The Leitch Report. Has all the tinkering made a difference? You tell me.”

A spokesman for the Association of Learning Providers said: “Tony Blair recognised early on that Britain needed an FE system that was more responsive to the needs of employers if the country’s serious skills shortages were going to be addressed and the productivity gap was going to be closed. Structural reforms with the disbanding of TECs and the creation of the Learning and Skills Council, which took time to focus properly on workforce development, meant that progress was not as quick as many of us would have liked. But after 10 years, we are now clearly seeing signs of a system that is ready to meet the challenges of globalisation. Raising standards in both colleges and independent providers have been a definite plus-mark for Blair’s time in office and there should be no let-up on quality under his successor.”

Liz Smith, director of unionlearn agrees that whilst progress has been made under Blair, there is still work to do: “The last 10 years have seen unprecedented investment in further education and also an increased recognition of the key role it plays in delivering skills of benefit to the economy. Whilst awareness of the skills crisis has been raised by this government, there is still a lot to do to ensure that employers are committed to raising the skills of their workforces and that FE is adequately funded to meet these challenges.

“Blairs government has shown confidence in the role of the unions in workplace learning and union learning reps spreading the message of lifelong learning. These union learning reps are a vital stage in encouraging people back into learning and helping them to progress. This type of stepping stone provision needs to be properly protected. We are also concerned that moves to increasing contestability will destabilise the sector.”

Do you feel FE has changed for the better under Tony Blair’s Government? Send your comments to [email protected]

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