From education to employment

The Government Should Think Less about Targets and More about Delivery

It has been more than two years since the government produced The Skills Strategy White Paper 21st Century Skills: Realising our Potential which highlighted its plans to reduce by at least 40% the number of adults in the workforce who lack NVQ level 2 or equivalent qualifications by 2010.

A recent report published by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA), “Modelling Progress Towards the Level 2 Target”, purports to have produced a model which shows that the government is currently on target to miss this figure by some margin. The report says that, based on the model produced by the LSDA, an extra 500,000adults will need to achieve Level 2 over this period which would represent a doubling of the current post-18 rate.


The methodology behind the model used to arrive at these findings would appear to be a little tenuous at best, but if they are to be taken at face value, and this finding in particular would appear to be concurrent with reports suggesting that adult learners are not taking up the offer of help with their basic skills needs at the rate that had been forecast, they represent a significant slap in the face for the government. Adult learners are just not responding to the government’s attempts to coerce them back to school to brush up on their three R’s despite such incentives as adult learning grants.

Why is this? One would assume that most would jump at the opportunity to improve their basic skills and better their prospects of finding a better job in an increasingly knowledge based economy. With the decline of traditional manufacturing jobs across the country it is important that we as a country do attempt to plug the widening skills gap between us and our European neighbours. But to attempt to drag the whole nation, some kicking and screaming, towards a universal level of education (NVQ 2) is simply not workable or practicable.

Most who do not have an NVQ 2 or equivalent will be without it for a reason, be it poor schooling or for wider socio-economic reasons, and of course it would be for the uni8versla good of the nation if all members of the post-18 work force who do not already possess these qualifications attempt to better themselves.

Not The Best for All

But for some, the goal of reaching an NVQ level 2 is, and will remain, out of reach. There are members of society who will not be able to attain a pass at NVQ level 2 no matter how hard they study but who might benefit just as fully from another form of vocational training or modern apprentice scheme. But the group who the government have been targeting most recently in their wider campaign to promote basic skills, the over 60s, make up the most arbitrary part of this nobly intentioned u8niversal push towards level 2.

A recent Department for Education and Skills (DfES) campaign to encourage this age group to “banish their gremlins” and improve their basic skills cannot help but sound a little condescending and patronising to a generation who have reached retirement having worked all of their lives only to be told that they are educationally defunct and need to do “reskill” in the twilight of their lives. Of course it is what anyone would want that everyone is capable of writing a coherent letter or completing a basic mathematical sum, but it is perhaps important for the government to remember that the strength of our economy today is based upon the manual work of retirees who have spent their working lives in manufacturing and industry.

Although the over 65s are not included in the government’s NVQ Level 2 2010 target, programmes such as this suggest that it might be better for policy makers to avoid headline grabbing targets and concentrate on nurturing and education system which is accessible to all.

Michael Lloyd

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