Missionaries with an eye on training targets

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

The growing influence of the relatively youthful Advisory Scottish Council for Education and Training Targets has been confirmed by last week's announcements.

The key role assigned to it by the Scottish Office in promoting adult guidance, lifelong learning and skills development could not confirm that influence more strongly. The Education Minister said he expected the council "to create a strong sense of direction and strategic leadership for all partners".

It has already exhibited both those qualities in abundance. Its 1995 annual report contained a series of recommendations which were virtually all put into action by ministers in their statements last week. Among them was the importance of national leadership, which neatly allowed the council to carve out another role for itself.

Privately reservations have been expressed that a body whose job is to monitor the achievement of qualifications will make lifelong learning a dull, target-driven and job-based activity. The Campaign for Learning, to which the council subscribes, stresses after all that "it is the completely unqualified who find the most difficulty in securing work of any kind".

But the council is content to be seen to be promoting learning in its broadest sense of "unlocking potential". The Campaign for Learning, for example, plans to produce a free pack for the public entitled Learning to get more out of Life. It aims to "reach the unreached and include the excluded".

The main concern of Stephanie Young, ASCETT's director, is that driving forward the national targets for education and training cannot be achieved if no more than 23 per cent of adult Scots "know the value of learning and are taking effective action", as a MORI poll found last year.

It is the council's annual reporting of progress towards these targets, gloomily expressed over the past two years, that has made it a familiar if not yet a household name. It was called into existence in March 1993 by the Secretary of State and launched its targets a year later; a similar body exists south of the border. Its chairman, and one of the reasons for its relentless efforts to drive Scotland up the international league, is John Ward. A Scottish Office favourite, he is resident director of IBM for Scotland and Northern England.

Professor Ward is renowned within the business and education network for his roadshow of well-designed coloured slides demonstrating continued poor education performance against Scotland's overseas competitors.

His fellow missionaries on the ASCETT council are Tom Farmer, chairman and chief executive of Kwik-Fit; David Miller, chairman of the Scottish Qualifications Authority; Peter Lederer, managing director of Gleneagles Hotel; Dr George Bennett, corporate vice-president of Motorola; Stewart Milne, chairman of the Stewart Milne Building Group; Mike Webster, principal of Perth College; Val MacIver, chairman of Highland education committee; and Campbell Christie, general secretary of the STUC.

The vacancy left by Frank Pignatelli, former director of education in Strathclyde, has still to be filled.

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