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Just more useless tinkering?

"Jobs blow over lack of skills: new city firms may be forced to recruit from outside" reads the headline in the Wolverhampton Chronicle, reporting the latest local skills crisis. A month later: "City fails its students: Ofsted criticises over-16 education", followed a few days later by:

"College hits out at watchdog criticism".

So, Wolverhampton and Bilston again reflect in microcosm the national malaise in post-compulsory education. In Wolverhampton we wait to see the detail of another attempt to transform the skills of the nation, introduce transparent funding and simplify the qualifications jungle.

Somewhere in Whitehall there is a disc labelled "New Reforms" containing the phrases ministers will use to launch the new package.

Somewhere on it is : "Over the past decade there has been a revolution in Britain's education and training. Far-reaching reforms have been backed up with increased resources. The Government is now introducing a new wave of reforms which will give Britain's young people an even better start in life."

That was John Major introducing education and training for the 21st century in 1991.

More recently: "We stand on the brink of a new age in which learning will be the key to prosperity for individuals and the economic future of the nation. That is why the Government has put learning at the heart of its ambition," - from David Blunkett's 1998 foreword to The Learning Age - a renaissance for a new Britain.

Despite record investment and radical reorganisations, at Coventry and in Wolverhampton the new Britain still looks much like the old one. The usual mix of "new" approaches to vocational training.

Tinkering with vocational training has been tried many times. Those with poor basic skills who need to benefit from the reforms will again be left largely untouched by the White Paper proposals.

We must get away from the obsession with vocationalism and have a go at real community-based education.

Paul Goddard-Patel

Former assistant principal

Bilston Community College

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