All credit to local heroes

27th June 2008 at 01:00
There is much to celebrate in the announcement about the number of adults achieving basic skills qualifications - particularly for a Government concerned about its record on social mobility

There is much to celebrate in the announcement about the number of adults achieving basic skills qualifications - particularly for a Government concerned about its record on social mobility.

With the connection between basic skills and earning power already well- rehearsed, Gordon Brown knows that his "crusade" to improve social mobility depends in large part on improving the life skills of those destined for low pay or unemployment because of poor educational achievement.

The fact that colleges and other providers have got 2.25 million people their first qualification two years before the 2010 target means that further education has transformed the potential income of hundreds of thousands of households.

While no one can argue with the achievement of colleges, we are left wondering about the contribution, if any, of government target- setting.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has no special explanation for the success, which rather makes us wonder about the basis for the 2010 deadline. It is a nice round number, but there is no evidence that the target was "ambitious", as the department claims.

The Learning and Skills Council offers us the rather generic explanation that the early success is due to the "hard work, effort and energy" of those involved. But what if it had taken until 2011 to reach the magic 2.25 million mark? Would this have been evidence of laziness or a lack of effort and energy on the part of lecturers? No. This achievement would still have been impressive if it was reached late. It is evidence that colleges are meeting the needs of the most economically vulnerable.

In the end, what has happened is that colleges have made their own judgements about how to work with their own communities to lure nervous and reluctant adults through the door. The success of Skills for Life is not about Whitehall target-setting. It is about the heroic endeavour of local educators responding to local needs.

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