A modern fairy tale

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Cinderella, just turned 16, is the Government's new love at the educational ball. The tune is variations on a theme from Tomlinson, and as she stares up into the leader's eyes, visions of status and wealth dazzle young Cinders, also known as the post-16 sector.

The question troubling the onlookers is: is he merely flirting or will she really one day be a princess? Is he just on the rebound from the A-level crisis?

Those in post-16 research sometimes seem to have a thankless task.

Government doesn't always listen, even when, as with Tomlinson, it nods and smiles in the right places. The acclaim that greeted the working party's report has died down, leaving whispers of cherrypicking, of making the research fit the policy.

Then there's the question of the employers, those who have to turn the further education sector's raw material into effective employees. As Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, says in this special report, a third of companies have to teach remedial numeracy and literacy to their recruits.

On top of that, industry is often sceptical of the academics who do research into post-16.

What can be done? Well, good stuff is already happening: these pages look at the problems and the progress. Nuffield is taking three years to do its own 14 to19 review, so it should be a thorough job; in the North East businesses are working productively with academics who have spent time in industry; elsewhere academic research is making a real difference to learning in the wider world and to training on the shop floor; and Tomlinson, whatever its fate, brought academics and policymakers together in a much-needed forum.

Another famous princess found three in a marriage too much. Cinderella needs four. If she is to be a real princess, she needs to get into bed with policymakers, employers and researchers. Then she'll really have a ball.

Editor Jill Parkin.

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