From education to employment

Recent Speech by Ruth Kelly to TUC Conference Broken Down by

Ruth Kelly MP, the Secretary of State for Education, recently gave a speech at the TUC Union Academy Conference.

She spoke of the Government’s aims for “a fair society for all” which would encompass “The best start in life for every child, educational opportunity for every teenager, the opportunity of work for every adult and dignity in retirement for every pensioner.” She also outlined the importance of the unions” role in passing on vocational skills and future Government plans for the improvement of further education.

Here, FE News reporter Joel Goldman takes a critical look at Ruth Kelly’s comments to see whether this new initiative is likely to work in light of previous Government initiatives.

Praise for Union Reps

In her speech, Ruth Kelly praised the work of the unions and union learning reps” efforts in bringing members back to learning as part of the Government’s skills strategy. She stated that since the inception of the Union Learning Fund in 1998, over £50 million has been made available to support over 490 projects in over 3,000 workplaces. This meant that over 100,000 workers have been helped back into learning by 8,000 Union Learning Reps at 400 new learning centres.

According to the speech, it is the Government’s intention to support a new Union Academy and to spend £3 million over the next three years helping trade unions to “build the capacity they need to make an effective contribution to the Sector Skills Councils.” The government hopes that this will address “those historic skills gaps that have blighted lives and communities and threatened the productivity of companies and businesses throughout the land.”

This in itself is laudable – if the union trainers and reps are allowed to impart their expertise without constant interference from so ““ called experts, without constant changes and u turns and without overbearing bureaucracy and red tape.

Fighting the Literacy and Numeracy Battle?

Also in the speech, Ruth Kelly stated: “Poor literacy and numeracy alone cost the country as much as ten billion pounds in lost revenue and lower productivity.” Whilst vast amounts of extra money have been poured into schools, teachers have not had enough time to do what they do best- teaching (including the necessary preparation and assessment of work). Instead, they have been buried under form filling. Rather than there being a period of stability, new initiative has followed on new initiative only to be discarded for the next “big idea”.

The speech seems to indicate that the Government is tackling the problem from the top downwards. It presumes that the people who are going to take up these union academy places will be arriving with the necessary numeracy and literacy skills, when there is clear evidence in Ruth Kelly’s own words that this is not the case.

Until the lack of basic skills is eradicated and we have 100% literacy and numeracy, the new initiatives will not fully achieve their aims. After all, you cannot put the roof on an academy until the foundations are firmly entrenched.

Joel Goldman

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