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Schools open gates to lifelong learning

SCHOOLS will be at the heart of the Scottish Executive's lifelong learning agenda when ministers publish their full strategy next Tuesday. New figures reveal there is still a considerable way to go to stimulate the public's appetite for learning after school (page four).

Iain Gray, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, will make the unexpectedly strong declaration when he unveils what he believes is the most comprehensive policy yet on lifelong learning.

For the first time this will cover further education colleges, the universities, vocational training and community and voluntary education. It will also include Mr Gray's full response to the parliamentary report on the subject last October.

Mr Gray will confirm the importance of the recommendations in last December's Determined to Succeed report which said that every pupil from P1 to S6 should have an enterprise-based education. The initiative will be backed by pound;40 million over the next three years.

He told The TES Scotland: "This represents a massive investment in Scotland's future and will produce a cultural shift, the benefits of which might not be evident for 15 or 20 years."

Schools will also be crucial to the wider access agenda of persuading more pupils from a wider range of backgrounds to go to college or university.

The strategy will link this to the national extension of the educational maintenance allowance, which is being funded by pound;8 million in 2004-05 and pound;26 million the following year.

But the general mood will be cautious with few newly funded measures beyond those flagged up in the Executive's spending review last September. The response will, however, include a tentative commitment in principle to the parliamentary lifelong learning com-mittee's key recommendation of an "entitlement" for all citizens.

This will take the form of a pilot scheme targeted on one of the disadvantaged groups identified by the committee such as low wage earners and lone parents.

Mr Gray will also underline the importance of better links between further and higher education to which he attaches "enormous importance". He intends to address criticisms of inconsistent funding for different kinds of learning, although he will point out that some of it is entirely explicable such as the higher costs of a medical degree.

The new strategy aims to tackle deficiencies in the training regime, with a new emphasis on the pre-modern apprenticeship stage which will extend basic qualifications.

It will herald reforms in work-based learning but will stop short of the parliamentary report's recommendation to abolish Skillseekers, the main programme, which was heavily criticised by MSPs who noted its 50 per cent drop-out rate.

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