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In search of ideas to refuel training

Former BP chairman Bryan Sanderson aims to oil the wheels of post-16 education by asking 100,000 students and trainees for their opinions. Ian Nash reports.

PROMOTION methods which boosted the fortunes of oil giant BP are being used to revitalise post-16 education and training.

Bryan Sanderson, former chairman of BP and now chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, is masterminding a pound;2 million survey to measure customer satisfaction in schools, colleges and among trainees at work.

Some 110,000 pupils, students and trainees will be interviewed over the next five years to find out what they think about their education.

The same methods are being employed by private health group BUPA, also chaired by Mr Sanderson, who is surprised that Britain's education system has lasted so long without such inquiries. And he reckons teachers, policy-makers and politicians will be in for a shock when the results of the survey, launched this week, roll in.

"Finding out what people know helps considerably when thinking about policy. It is no good banging on about the number of people taking vocational qualifications if most people have never heard of them."

The survey will be done three times a year. Telephone interviews with about 8,000 students will be carried out each time by the independent polling company NOP World.

Costs of interviewing and processing the results are reckoned to be around pound;150,000 a go.

Mr Sanderson said the survey was meant to supplement rather than duplicate local school and college surveys. It is expected to build up a bank of data to help shape policy.

Clearer views of customer attitude and opinion would have helped when drafting proposed reforms in the 14-to-19 Green Paper, he said.

It would also have given early warning of problems with the Government's flagship individual learning accounts scheme to encourage adults back to education.

Education and training policy should not be shaped by providers alone, he said. "We need a whole swathe of contributions to the education debate. It is an immensely complicated and fast-changing system. Learners, customers - call them what you will - all have valuable information.

"We will ask them how they reacted to offers, what they know about what is being offered and what they think of their experiences," he said.

A similar approach to testing customer attitudes was used within BP. Surveys of customers at the petrol stations revealed a high level of hostility towards the "aggressive" shield logo, but an empathy with the "green" image of the company.

Subsequent reforms saw sales soar 10 per cent as the company understood more clearly what drove the customer and motivated them to buy.

Mr Sanderson said: "In the NOP surveys we will also be exploring what really matters to learners, and what drives and motivates them to learn."

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