I've seen the future and it's big

29th June 2007 at 01:00

IT'S NOT often that you get a glimpse of the future of education and training.

It had nothing to do with the Department for Education and Skills, the Learning and Skills Council, sector skills councils or anything much else as far as the usual public education provision is concerned. But the initial ideas came from the public sector. Some of the handmaiden work to make it possible was done by me and mine when we worked in the public sector.

What is it? It is the new defence training centre at St Athan in South Wales. It is, to use the current buzz phrase, a genuine public-private partnership. It will bring together in one place almost all military technical training, replacing 27 colleges mostly in the south of England.

Its training centre will be a space-age conversion of the huge St Athan maintenance hanger to create the biggest single learning space in Europe.

Its students will be housed in comfortable en-suite single rooms set in a leafy campus with lakes and fountains. It will be more like Princeton than a barracks, yet those students will be military personnel under military discipline.

It will be run under a pound;16 billion deal for a quarter century or more by a consortium of mainly private companies called Metrix. The members are an interesting bunch. They are led by a clutch of defence industry insiders, including Qinetiq and Raytheon, alongside some of the big names of PFI such as Land Securities Trillium and EDS. But also in there are City and Guilds, the Open University and Nord Anglia.

I didn't know that Raytheon is one of the world's biggest trainers, with 400,000 students on its courses including the staff of General Motors.

This is the march of the big battalions. The bid took 300 people a full year to produce, and just printing the submission cost pound;250,000.

There will be 500 courseware designers and developers on the staff, producing "emulation, simulation and web-based technologies" to run alongside traditional instruction. Teaching will be based on "mentoring, coaching and accreditation", and nearly half of it will be delivered by people recently returned from military operations and destined to go back after a year or two.

Most other things look pretty small beer compared with this level of professional preparation, planning, investment and, yes, vision.

What was our part in it? It was to help the military sort out its attitude to the relationship between pedagogy and pastoral care; between teaching people to do things and teaching them to be something. That, in the end, was what Deepcut was about.

Without a resolution, for which the Deepcut parents can take some credit, the parents of young people going into the military in future would not be sending them to the dreaming spires of St Athan. And the rest of us would be without one model of the post-Leitch lifelong learning world.

David Sherlock is Director of Beyond Standards Limited

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