CHIEF schools inspector Chris Woodhead this week warned ministers that the desire to create a "learning society" will fail if people feel they are being forced into lifelong education.
Mr Woodhead claimed that the Government, which last week championed the achievement of a 107-year-old learner, needed to recognise that not everybody wanted to study throughout their lives.
Delivering his annual lecture at London's Royal Society of Arts on Tuesday, Mr Woodhead took issue with Education Secretary David Blunkett's recent North of England Conference claim that "we want people of all ages engaged with learning".
Mr Woodhead, who takes control of college inspection next year, criticised this as a "Utopian ideal" and then attacked Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education.
He quoted Mr Tuckett as putting forward the concept of "compulsory lifelong learning", based on the fact that, in industries such as computing, employees had no option but to constantly update their knowledge.
But Mr Woodhead said this statement carried dangerous overtones of "mral authoritarianism". He said he had yet to be convinced that there was a link between high educational achievement and happiness, or even effective workplace performance.
But Mr Tuckett said he had been quoted out of context by Mr Woodhead, on the basis of a
second-hand report of a TES article he wrote two years ago. He added: "Mr Woodhead talked in his speech about how soundbites should not be used as a basis for clear thinking. Here he is doing it himself."
Speaking of his plans for the sector, Mr Woodhead expanded on his scepticism about the reliability of internal college assessments.
He said: "I note with interest, given the debate about the relative virtues of self-evaluation and external inspection, that in 40 per cent of cases there is a gap between the grades awarded by the college and inspection judgments."
He also issued a coded attack on the new learning and skills councils, which some say are a Government attempt to impose area-wide planning on sixth forms and colleges. He said: "I would counsel against any move that undermined the autonomy of colleges."