Key question behind the consultation

9th May 2008 at 01:00
FE Focus has tried to resist the use of the word "learner", despite the best efforts of the Government and its agencies to interfere further with the already obscure lexicon of education-speak

FE Focus has tried to resist the use of the word "learner", despite the best efforts of the Government and its agencies to interfere further with the already obscure lexicon of education-speak. We have always felt that words such as student or trainee are perfectly good English, and have long suspected that use of "learner", like much official vocabulary, has a political agenda.

It now seems we were justified. The latest consultation on "informal learning" shows ministers aim to demonstrate that people benefit from education when no teaching is taking place. The intention seems to be that activities such as visiting a library, watching television or using the internet can be held up as evidence that education is reaching more and more people, even when some of the best adult education - including the kind of non-vocational courses that give colleges much of their special character - is being closed down.

Before considering whether to trust the good intentions of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' consultation, we must consider it in the context of this Government's reputation.

Ministers are asking a lot if they expect college lecturers to believe this exercise is about something more than using statistics to hide the gaps in adult provision that are opening up in colleges. In particular, they are asking for our trust. Sadly, trust is a commodity - so skillfully accumulated during New Labour's rise to power in 1997 - that has been squandered in recent years.

For many, the rot set in as a result of the absence of evidence to support the stated reasons for the Iraq war. No doubt feeling invincible after surviving that one, it is hardly surprising that the Government thought it could get away with the abolition of the 10 per cent tax bracket, although last week's London mayoral election - if it is any barometer of opinion on national government - suggests otherwise.

These issues may seem far removed from FE policy, but they will influence our readers as they assess the extent of the Government's good faith.

We would urge people to respond to this consultation. But in deciding on the nature of that response, one fundamental question must be asked: can the Government's approach to "informal learning" be trusted?

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