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An obligation to invest in education

Many problems are apparent in the commission's overview of post-16 provision, and it is particularly critical of financial arrangements for individual students and on-the-job training.

The commission wants to see full-time students contributing to the costs of university education with an annual flat rate fee fixed at a set percentage of the national average costs of such courses.

Pre-payment will attract a discount, deferred payments will be made through tax or national insurance systems and will be linked to income. A maintainance allowance, repayable in the same way, should be set at a level allowing a reasonable standard of living.

The scheme should be run by an organisation it suggests could be called the Student Support Agency and funded with private investment, with an agreed level of default underwritten by the government.

University infrastructure has often been overstretched by expansion without necessary resources, the report says, "and there is a general shabbiness on many campuses which gives a poor impression to staff and students alike of the value accorded to their activities. These shortcomings must be put right. " It is also time for a new pay and conditions deal for university staff, the commission says.

Adults who have not completed their foundation learning should be encouraged by waived fees for courses providing basic education or qualifications up to and including A-levelGNVQ3. Under 24s should not be charged full fees for college courses: similar arrangements should apply as for university students and loan schemes should be put on a similar footing.

Discretionary awards should be overhauled and in the case of 16 to 18-year-olds the maintainance level should remove undue pressure to leave full-time education as soon as they legally can.

Although some companies see development and training of employees as necessary, the commission questions whether enough is being done to raise standards. It reiterates its earlier proposal of an obligation to provide workers with a minimum of five days a year off-the-job education or training, or the cost to be provided for the employee to attend a relevant course of his or her choice.

It adds that it should be compulsory for under-18s out of full-time education and in work to attend college for 1.5 days each week.

The commission is also promoting the development of individual learning accounts, to encourage individuals to invest in their own learning, perhaps with the help of their employers. It recommends that the Government, the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC work together to design a scheme.

The commission's programme of action

1 Establish a Department for Education and Training with the mission of transforming the country into a learning society

2 Adopt a strategic plan, embody in it demanding new targets for education and training, and report annually on progress

3 Make a long-term commitment to support the strategic plan with steadily rising investment

4 Take measures to:o boost the quality of new teachers and of teachingo improve the management and staffing of schools o support the formation of a General Teaching Council o develop and implement a nation-wide policy for innovation in education

5 Institute immediate action on early-years learning

6 Radically overhaul arrangements for the financial support of students from the age of 16 onwards

7 Introduce a unified national framework of qualifications normally achieved at 16 and 18

8 Mount a sustained drive, led by a Minister, to raise achievement in disadvantaged schools

9 Implement a major programme to improve the job prospects of low-achieving school-leavers

10 Introduce a statutory scheme for individual learning accounts funded by employees and employers.

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