Former Labour schools minister Lord Knight has called for the education system to be redesigned around a culture of lifelong learning, with radical reform including the replacement of the apprenticeship levy.
Speaking during a debate on lifelong learning in the House of Lords yesterday, he said: “We need to convert the apprenticeship levy into a lifelong learning levy that employers, the Exchequer and the employee all pay into and that individuals can draw on through their life for university and for skills training”.
In addition to promoting lifelong learning at schools and universities, “We need a rebooted universal adult skills system that is a mixed economy of public and private providers with a new funding model,” he said.
Out of date
Lord Knight, who is also chief education and external affairs officer at Tes, added: “Our education system is still stuck in thinking from 70 years ago. This is reflected in our lifelong learning culture that is a long way from where it needs to be to meet the needs of individuals, society and our economy.
The country’s approach assumes that adult skills are “something that a small minority may need help with—probably the same people who did not do so well at school,” and is “woefully out of date,” according to the peer.
He remarked that today’s generation “need to be able to change careers several times, as technology deskills and reskills their profession. As a consequence, a culture of lifelong learning is vital”.
Lord Knight added: “If the population is to be productive, if we are to be less dependent on migrant skills and if we are to avoid a contagion of disaffection spreading from the rust belt, we need an education system designed around a culture of lifelong learning”.
Baroness Garden, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for higher education, further education and skills, said: “People are living and working longer, but training across working lives is going down”.
She called on the government to “lead a radical focus on lifelong learning and create an infrastructure that enables individuals of all ages to make transitions and compete in this ever-changing job market”.
‘Earning and learning’
During the debate, Labour’s shadow education spokesperson, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, argued that “much more needs to be done to facilitate an “earning and learning” framework, because the reality is that, for this and future generations, lifelong and career learning will be an economic necessity”.
He attacked the government for funding cuts to further education and commented: “Unsurprisingly, this has led to diminishing numbers of courses and students”.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie pledged that Labour “will introduce free lifelong education in FE colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in their life, which is surely a necessity”.
Lord Younger, the government’s education spokesperson in the Lords, commented: “We must strive to create a sustainable lifelong learning culture”.
He added: “We are making some progress. There is much work to do, but it does not matter whether you are eight, 18 or 80, lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important to all of us”.