Another view - Not much mention of FE in Ukip's plans

12th June 2009 at 01:00

Surely the perky performance of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) in the recent elections must be good news for further education?

Just think of all the apprentice engineers we'll be needing to build that giant flotation device. You know, the one to float off the homeland of the Brits further into the North Sea, away from all those kissy-kissy, garlic- munching, over-excitable Europeans.

They are not in power yet, but with the impeccable logic of the British voter - protesting about the dodgy dealings of mainstream MPs by voting for a party that had one former MEP who was jailed for fraud and another charged with false accounting and money laundering - who knows what the future may bring?

The trouble is that Ukip isn't very hot on the education front. Visit the website and pretty soon you know they would like to make things as they were in 1955. Or, put another way, to turn the whole of the country into a giant Isle of Wight. But where the party stands on the education issues of our day is harder to discover.

Nigel Farage, the party leader and the only member that anyone has ever heard of, has only one item concerning education on his blog - a visit to Eton College. You can get the flavour of it from the following: "It was my first visit to the school, and I enjoyed a brief guided tour of the old buildings, finding the chapel particularly impressive. This was followed by a splendid dinner."

There is also a brief one-liner under the heading of "Digest of Ukip Policies in 2009". This reads: "We will have a grammar school in every town. We will restore standards of education and improve skills training. Student grants will replace student loans."

Not a lot to go on there then, but keep digging and your patience will be rewarded. Tucked away among a group of dusty policy papers is one marked "Education". This was written in August 2006. But at least it's there.

The document makes fascinating reading in a Colonel Blimp meets Wackford Squeers sort of way. What is called for is nothing short of a return to the "good old days", when education was for the few rather than the many. That "grammar school in every town" - along with a couple of secondary moderns on the other side of the tracks, of course - is to be accommodated by a return to selection at 11, very much along the lines of the old 11- plus.

There is also a plan to dump GCSEs on the grounds that they are too easy. In their place would be old-style O-levels. Coursework would also be out of the window. Traditional examinations, Ukip declares, are the only proper way to assess learning.

In this bright, old new world of educational sheep and goats, the goats would be able to leave school before 16 if they wanted to. They would, of course, have no illusions that the robustly academic O-levels were for them. Instead, they would sit "more practical NVQ-style examinations, which would offer a more realistic test of ability for less academic children".

The promised return to grants for university students would be made possible by there being far fewer of them. Just as schools would look like the 1950s again, so would universities return to the days when only boffins were allowed inside their ivy-clad walls.

But where is FE in all this? Nowhere. For Ukip, it seems that FE doesn't exist. It is implied, of course, in that commitment to "improve skills training" and talk of NVQs. But in the 26-page education document, the sector isn't mentioned by name once.

Actually, that is not entirely accurate. It is mentioned once. But as that mention is a reference to higher rather than further education, it can't really be said to count. But then, if it's not a grammar school, why should it count, after all?

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