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Ministers rule outradical shake-up

Neil Munro reports on the reactions to last week's announcements on lifelong learning

Ministers have rejected a radical recommendation from the Scottish Skills Forum that would have made the Investors in People quality standard a condition of companies receiving public funds or doing business with public bodies. They also rejected a proposal that members appointed to bodies concerned with training, such as further education boards and the enterprise agencies, should only come from organisations with IIP recognition.

The response from the Scottish Office said restrictions would run counter to the Nolan Committee's recommendation that public bodies should be "open to anyone with the requisite skills". The criteria for contracts should remain "quality, performance and cost", the response adds.

The Scottish Office has also side-stepped pressure from the forum to remove benefit restrictions on unemployed people studying part-time under the Jobseekers' Allowance. Its response states that the current Workskill pilots, which exempt students from the availability for work rule, "will inform future policy development".

Greg Bourne, the forum's chairman, none the less welcomed the Government's overall response, saying that almost all the recommendations had been accepted. But Carmen McAteer, a forum member and regional officer with the MSF union, said inward investors that receive large sums of public money should be required to show a commitment to training, "particularly when there is increasing concern about the low-level jobs that are being created by these overseas investors".

Mr Bourne said the report's message for employers was that they should to do more to emphasise the links between learning and success. "Management has to start walking the talk not just talking the talk," he said. The creation of a national strategy linked to local guidance and learning systems was exactly what the forum wanted to see, Mr Bourne said. "The rubber has got to hit the road at some point and that is best done at local level," he added. Investment in improved guidance would pay off in increased take-up of educational opportunities and fewer students abandoning courses.

He told The TESScotland: "I am delighted to see that the various groups are going for the highest common denominator rather than low-level consensual stuff. I like to think our report balances pragmatism with ambition."

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