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Blackstone launches a cultural revolution

The blueprint for a huge expansion in adult education is to be drawn up by a high-profile team, hand-picked by ministers, to lay the groundwork for a British cultural revolution.

Education and employment minister Baroness Blackstone has charged Bob Fryer, principal of Northern College, to produce an action plan in time for a White Paper in October.

She told The TES that Professor Fryer's committee of leading figures from the media, business, trade unions, colleges, universities and local authorities would be expected to drive policy forward.

"I will feel I have failed in my job at the end of five years if we have not tried to turn things round so that every adult feels that learning is a thing for them and that it is a thing that goes on throughout life," she said.

"What we want Bob Fryer and his committee to do is think about the whole way he can change the culture."

Lady Blackstone said she wanted ideas about opening up schools, increasing the role of adult education centres, and engineering a boom in workplace training. A report is due in September.

Ministers see the exercise as one of major importance and in taking it on Lady Blackstone puts her political credibility at stake.

She has given the committee the huge task of appealing for grassroots opinion and is calling for a flood of proposals from any source.

The Government's quest is for a cradle-to-grave education system, designed to strengthen family and community values and develop initiatives for the planned University for Industry.

"What Bob Fryer wants is not just representative groups of people such as the Workers' Educational Association or National Institute for Continuing Adult Education, but individuals with exciting ideas," she said.

Ministers were keeping an "open mind" on possible legislation for a lifelong entitlement to adult continuing education and training.

The urgency of the committee's work is underlined by the fact that its terms of reference and plea for written submissions have been completed before membership is finalised.

Cash for any programmes emerging from the committee's consultations and White Paper would almost certainly come from the individual learning accounts, being shaped by Chancellor Gordon Brown. This would ensure that costs are shared by the individual, the employer and the state.

The White Paper will also form a big part of the Government's response to the Dearing inquiry into the future of higher education and the Kennedy inquiry into widening participation in further education. But it would be much wider than both, she insisted.

"We want more than a statement of programmes of aims," Lady Blackstone said. "We want ideas about implementation; ideas and exciting, innovative suggestions about putting flesh on the bones of a changing culture.

"This is not about higher education but family and community learning. He (Professor Fryer) will have things to say about initiatives that relate to the University for Industry, which is not primarily about higher education, although HE will not be excluded from it.

Professor Fryer would be looking at the whole of the adult learning sector much of which was outside FE and HE, said Lady Blackstone.

She did not expect the Dearing inquiry to say much about the role of continuing education in HE. Sir Ron's remit was restricted to the shape and funding of HE into the future.

"Bob Fryer's committee will be focusing on bringing these areas together and we want them to look at the contribution of HE and FE." People should not wait for Dearing before writing to the committee, she said.

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