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Learning to meet everyone's needs

As the great skills debate rumbles on, learndirect's success in reaching traditional underachievers offers hope for the future, writes Ian Nash

A popular pastime among the chattering classes is: "Guess the next policy".

More is said and written with "expert authority" about what ministers intend to do than what they actually do.

The information age thrives on a complex food chain of rumour, guesswork and leaks. Press, politicians and policy wonks all chew over the fat. And when big political statements are delayed - as with the pending White Paper on the nation's skills strategy - those indulging in the pastime go into overdrive. It is all good knockabout fun that causes a few palpitations but is not stressful enough to give anyone a coronary.

The chatter is harmless, so long as it does not detract from the central issues, as it has over the past 25 years during repeated debates, but inadequate action, about the reform of vocational qualifications. Arguments were often reduced to the question in Lilliput over whether the correct way to open an egg: at the little end or the big end?

There is much agonising in the great skills debate about such issues as whether to impose a training levy on employers, charge fees for adult learning and hand more policy control to regional government. But the real issues that matter now, that learndirect and its partners must address with urgency are: how to reach and teach underachievers and adults lacking basic skills; and how to get to them in the home, community and workplace.

These are the issues addressed in this special report. Ministers have given new commercial freedom and spending controls to learndirect and put it centre stage in tackling the skills crisis.

The following pages reveal considerable evidence of success. While addressing weaknesses in the system, they also look at how these are being addressed. Learndirect operates at its best where it fosters partnerships with industry, colleges, government departments and other training agencies.

Ann Limb, chief executive of learndirect, describes how the new freedom will help the organisation meet the needs of employers and staff (pages 4-5). Companies report on how individual staff have already benefited and Susan Pember, chief executive of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit, explains why she has used learndirect to encourage adult to return to learn. While the chattering classes continue their debates, it is successes such as these that actually help people get and keep jobs.

Ian Nash editor, Learning Reforms

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