FE jargon is appalling and guaranteed to put off the very people it seeks to attract, according to a leading professor. Harvey McGavin reports
A LEADING figure in further education condemned the drive for "lifelong learning", saying colleges and the Government are insulting and alienating the very people they are supposed to help.
Professor Bob Fryer, chairman of the University for Industry, said too many current initiatives failed to recognise the real learning people did every day,
"I am sick of people being insulted and told they are non-learners because they can't read or write. We are all learning all the time - at home, raising a family, down the pub, solving problems, handling personal conflicts."
Efforts to engage new learners were being damaged by the hamfisted jargon of the FE establishment, he said.
"The language in this field is appalling - it is absolutely guaranteed to put off the people we claim we want to help. 'Lifelong learning' - it sounds like a prison sentence, it's a most horrible expression. 'Adult basic skills' is like saying 'stand up who wants to be humiliated'.
"We have really got to cleanse our vocabulary of this language which treats the great unwashed as never doing any learning."
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton, he mocked the seemingly endless succession of government initiatives.
"What's the policy today? They won't let them out of the building without giving them a new policy to announce. It's like an old fashioned bonfire party - all the ministers bring their own fireworks and they let them off when they feel like it."
Professor Fryer, whose 1997 report "Learning for the 21st century" helpedto shape many of today's current initiatives, also said the real job of promoting learning for all was "far too important to be left to the educationists".
"Can you imagine what it would be like if you learned to walk and talk from an educationist - you would get an NVQ in stumbling! People have to understand this is something more inclusive, more optimistic, more challenging than anything ever dreamed of in Sanctuary Buildings."
He called on the Government to use new Learning and Skills Council as an opportunity radically to reshape the FE agenda and give working-class people real opportunity. "Now is the time to get some focus not to be all things to all people. In this country learning is suffused with the stench of class. That's the challenge, that's what's got to be changed when the LSC comes in."
Although the Adult and Community Learning Fund was supporting some worthwhile outreach work, its budget of pound;20 million over four years was "tiny".
He urged more employers to support their employees in learning. He also called for the introduction of learning representatives in every workplace - similar to the statutory requirement for health and safety representatives.
The Government should trust colleges with the job of engaging hard-to-reach potential learners. The "over-complex" funding system should be scrapped in favour of a model that didn't just fund qualifications but allowed colleges to attract these students.
"You have got to fund some outreach, some risk-taking," he said.
"We must find a funding mechanism which is built on trust and confidence and takes risks. You have got to expect some failures along the way but, by God, you will find some treasures."