Brown flags 'learning accounts'

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Labour's plans to review benefits and grants for 16 to 18-year-olds and introduce lifelong "individual learning accounts" were flagged up by Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, in the John Smith Memorial lecture in Edinburgh last week.

Mr Brown said the review would ensure that "no one is denied education because of poverty". Learning accounts would offer "a range of options accessible at different times throughout working life".

Dismissing the current system as "a 16-plus national educational lottery" unsuitable for the aim of "raising aspirations for every child in school", Mr Brown declared: "Millions, as a result of the chaos of the present system, fall through the net and receive no help with education and training throughout their working lives.

"The current system of post-school funding was built for the days of the elite. Everyone knows it must change for the world of mass education."

Labour's proposal to scrap child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds, which the party claims will release Pounds 700 million to target support for education and training, has come under fire, but Elizabeth Maginnis, Labour education convener in Edinburgh, has given a guarded welcome.

Mrs Maginnis said: "Those most likely to leave school at 16 are from poor or badly educated homes, are the least likely to go on to training and are the most likely to stay unemployed and not to receive any benefit. A proposal to make them invest in training and to ensure there is educational opportunity is plainly the better deal."

Learning accounts were an "exciting idea" that would give people more than one chance to consider the benefits of education and training.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has no stance on scrapping child benefit for the over-16s, but Fred Forrester, the union's depute general secretary, said: "We have been saying for years there is an urgent need for a coherent training programme with education built into it."

But such a programme would have to be drawn up in the context of the Higher Still reforms.

Mr Forrester endorsed Mr Brown's aim to make a reformed system of education and training support into a central component of an equal opportunities and anti-poverty strategy.

"There is a strong correlation between socio-economic status and children's educational progress," he said. But to "break that correlation and enable poor children to access the system so they are eventually not poor is a considerable undertaking," Mr Forrester said.

Mr Brown's speech has been criticised across the political spectrum from the Conservative Party to left-wing Labour MPs in the Campaign to Defend the Welfare State. It also drew the fire of child support groups.

Sally Witcher, director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "We recognise the benefit of education and training but we don't want the benefit taken away."

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