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Barriers curb study-time demand

I TRUST that Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency (FE letters, November 3) and I basically agree on the need for paid study time - at work as well as away from it.

My article (FE Focus, October 27) urged a statutory entitlement to paid study time which I had entitled "the missing link in the training chain". This would give employees a right to update their skills including their basic skills.

Unfortunately, the headline referring to "lazy employers" provoked Alan into writing a letter which suggests we disagree! He is keen to emphasise the need for funding advice and support for employers, particularly small and medium-sized, to enable them to facilitate paid study.

The two approaches are complementary but whereas my focus requires legislation (and possibly a manifesto commitment), Alan's does not.

But Alan has misunderstood me as having said "the demand for learning is not there"; I specifically cited a Department for Educatin and Employment survey which "found that one-third of all employees with no plans to engage in training would do so if given paid time off".

I was moved to write the article because some economists from a well-known think-tank and the late unlamented Chris Woodhead have publicly suggested that there is no demand for widening participation in post-school learning further.

My point is that the need is there and recognised by the people concerned but that it will only become a demand, in the sense that economists will recognise, when certain barriers are removed.

We can all recall economists arguing that there was no demand for nursery education in the early 1970s. The arguments look a little silly now.

So will arguments against a statutory right to Paid Study Time when people look back in 30 years time which is why I hope we were all cheering on David Chaytor's Bill this week.

Paul Mackney

General secretary

NATFHE

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