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Skills councils urged to 'emulate medieval guilds'

FE and skills minister John Hayes has called for sector skills councils to rebrand themselves as medieval guilds for the 21st century and to inspire a new Arts and Crafts movement.

In a speech to the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) on Tuesday, he said the vocational skills system must inspire rather than get bogged down in bureaucratic language if it was ever to gain the same respect as academia.

Mr Hayes said: "`Sector skills councils' (SSCs) is hardly a term to stiffen the sinew and summon up the blood. And that is a symptom of a deeper problem.

"Here, too, we have become stuck in a dreary technocratic language which drives away imagination and inspiration.

"I want SSCs to dare to rise to the challenge of going beyond the strictly utilitarian, of becoming guilds for the 21st century, creating a sense of pride in the occupations of today, and giving to the individual worker a sense of purpose and belonging."

Guilds still remain for occupations as diverse as fishmongers and surgeons, and Mr Hayes said there was an opportunity for industry bodies to take on some of the romance of the medieval institutions.

He also said he was considering developing a new Government award for excellence in the crafts, perhaps with the support of the Prince of Wales's charities.

Mr Hayes said that the original 19th century Arts and Crafts movement arose as a reaction to industrialisation, and suggested that the successor he wanted to bring into existence could emerge as a response to the replacement of community businesses with impersonal superstores.

"The world they portray is one in which membership of a craft guild, and consequently the skills required to qualify, are something to which ordinary people aspire - as indeed they undoubtedly were in reality," he said. "It's a world in which bakers are proud to be bakers, and to be admired as such by others."

Rather than celebrating practical skills, however, Britain had tended too often to attach academic components to practical courses to confer a bogus respectability on them, he said.

"I don't believe, as some seem to, that Britain, once the workshop of the world, is doomed to dwindle to a race of merchant bankers," he said. "On the contrary, I believe that it is British manufacturing and the practical skills that underpin it that must lead us into renewed economic growth."

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