Clap hands for Skills for Growth

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Comment: John Stone

The Learning and Skills Network welcomes many of the aims of the Government's new National Skills Strategy as set out in its white paper Skills for Growth.

We applaud its promise of greater freedom for colleges and other training institutions demonstrating teaching excellence. We also welcome the importance it places on advanced vocational skills, with the expansion of advanced apprenticeships and stronger progression routes from apprenticeships into higher education.

In particular, LSN supports the strategy's move towards a system defined not simply by targets but real-world outcomes with real market value. We have been concerned about the distorting effect of the qualifications paper chase - ultimately, it is skills that matter and it's the balance between supply and demand at local level that makes the difference.

But we are concerned that chasing national high level targets - such as the Skills Strategy's aim of 75 per cent in higher education or completing an advanced apprenticeship or equivalent by 30 - would lead to an overqualified and inappropriately skilled workforce. Recent research suggests jobs growth occurs across the whole skills spectrum, not just at higher qualification levels.

The strategy's pledge to cut through the clutter and simplify the learning and skills landscape is also welcome. However, while we accept the recommendation of removing 30 quangos, reducing the number of bodies without a root-and-branch review of the complexity of the system could make things worse.

Another proposal set out in the white paper is the introduction of Skill Accounts for every learner. We believe these must be introduced with care. Aside from the lessons learned from Individual Learning Accounts a decade ago, Skill Accounts bring with them another layer of bureaucracy, which could deter learners rather than attract them.

LSN's think tank, the Centre for Innovation in Learning, published Beyond Leitch: skills policy in the upturn last month, which considers what changes are needed for skills policy to work in changing economic circumstances. Agility and responsiveness in the system is very much a key aspect.

John Stone, Chief executive, Learning and Skills Network.

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