From education to employment

Tories Seek to Fund New Scheme By Scrapping the LSC

In an address to a conference in St. Albans, Conservative leader Michael Howard unveiled a new aspect of the Party’s education policy portfolio with the introduction of a new scheme to promote technical and practical skills training in British schools and colleges. This action plan seeks to “raise the quality and standard of education that the system provides”.

If elected, the Conservatives seek to establish a network of skills “Super Colleges”, provide extra funding by scrapping the Learning and Skills Council and other related government quangos and enable 14 and 15 year olds to start on a vocational path from school while allowing FE colleges to provide specialist courses for them. As well, the Party would set up vocational training grants of up to £1000 to provide extra places at FE colleges or enable groups of schools to set up vocational training for pupils seeking to learn craft skills.

In reaction to Conservative plans, an LSC spokesman said, “Clearly it would not be right for the LSC to comment on specific policies of any political party. We will of course work with which ever party forms the next Government. [However],the LSC adds considerable value to post-16 education and training, including in schools. We provide leadership, transforming the sector to be more efficient and effective. We provide the expertise to make policy smarter, and take action to ensure that education and training continues to be high-quality and relevant. And were doing this for £50m less than under the TECs and funding council.”

Offering a wider perspective, Howard said, “We have to build our education system around human needs, valuing choices people make, abandoning the elitist perception that academic study is somehow nobler than other callings.” Echoing the Conservative leader, Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins commented, “We need to fill the skills gap that is holding back many of our businesses. We need to engage the disengaged young and help them build worthwhile skills.”

Decreasing the skills gap is a high priority for both the Labour and Conservative parties, as well as for business organizations. However, some are sceptical and believe that this new Conservative plan is simply a ploy to attract votes. “Whatever proposals are adopted to tackle the very real skills shortages facing the UK, government will need to work closely with employers to ensure that course and qualifications meet genuine employer needs. There is no point providing grants for thousands of youngster to take courses that will not be relevant to the jobs they are likely to find available to them when they leave school,” offered Victoria Gill, CIPD adviser on learning, training and development.

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Also amongst the sceptical is Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary. “These long awaited, but inadequate proposals have more in common with Rab Butler and 1944 than the skills needs of the 21st century. All young people need to be engaged in high quality vocational education as part of their 14-19 studies. To simply offer un-costed bribes to colleges and employers to take on disillusioned young people smacks of desperation,” said Willis.

Howard’s speech was followed by the publication of the education chapter of the party’s election manifesto- promising determined action to raise standards, boost school discipline, scrap university tuition fees, widen choice in education and strengthen skills provision.

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