Paulo launches skill mission;FE focus

Ian Nash

qualifications to raise the status of more than two million workers in the youth service, adult education and community development will be created under the Government's drive against social exclusion this autumn.

Plans for a body to set training standards - proposed by a consortium of organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - have been put to ministers.

Everyone from scout and guide leaders to care workers, youth workers and truant officers would be offered training to carry out more exacting tasks alongside teachers in schools and colleges.

They would be better equipped to work with teachers and lecturers on programmes for drop-outs, pregnant teenagers and young offenders.

George Mudie, the lifelong learning minister, will announce reforms to give the careers, youth, community and adult services a central role in education and training this summer. His proposals are expected alongside a White Paper on post-16 reform.

If approved by ministers, the new national training organisation would set standards for all qualifications from national vocational qualifications to postgraduate level.

Tom Wylie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, one of the leading partners in the consortium, said: "We urgently need to build up occupational standards and an agreed set of qualifications. It is there to some extent but it is not robust."

The proposed name for the consortium is Paulo, after Paulo Freire, the Roman Catholic Marxist and liberation philosopher who helped to transform community education in Mexico. "It symbolises the key role UK governments should play in promoting education, health and welfare through community investment," he said.

"We are the front-line services at the heart of promoting social achievement and social inclusion of disadvantaged people."

Paulo would work alongside the Further Education National Training Organisation to ensure consistent standards throughout the post-16 sector.

Ministers came in for a drubbing from youth service workers and advisers in February after youth work funding was cut for the fifth successive year. Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget announcements had concealed a pound;92 million cut to the service - a total decrease of pound;250 million since 1995.

With a more rigorous and challenging career structure for all workers in the three services covered by the consortium, the service would be better placed to challenge such moves, Mr Wylie insisted.

In the youth service alone there are 5,000 full-time workers, 30,000 full-time equivalent in part-time jobs and 600,000 voluntary workers, all within the scope of the new qualifications framework.

In a bid to run the national training organisation, the group tells ministers that considerable improvements can be made at minimum costs. The cost of a central office is estimated at around pound;200,000. Around 3 to 4 per cent of service budgets should be spent on training and professional development, Mr Wylie said. At present pound;237m is spent on council-maintained youth work.

But much of the cash needed would come from private funds, he added. "For instance if you are a scout leader you are very likely to do the necessary training in your own time and at your own cost."

He estimated that for every pound;1 contributed by the state, pound;8 will be spent by volunteers and their organisations.

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Ian Nash

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