On-line, Britain's 'cultural revolution'

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Government advisers are urging a radical overhaul of lifelong learning, extending it to millions of people, reports Ben Russell.

Proposals for a British "cultural revolution" to create a radical new cradle-to-grave education were published today by senior Government advisers.

Education Secretary David Blunkett is being urged to open up education to hundreds of thousands of people. All Government departments, trade unions, councils, industrialists, schools, colleges and universities would be involved in this dramatic change of thinking.

A report, written as a forerunner of next year's Lifelong Learning White Paper, recommends a raft of measures to revolutionise adult education.

Proposed reforms start with primary schools, recommending that teachers place preparation for a lifetime's study alongside the 3 Rs. Headteachers are also being urged to open their facilities to the community out of hours.

But the report's authors go further, proposing fundamental changes to education funding, planning laws and even central Government policy-making to promote training and education.

The report said: "The scale of the task the Government has set can scarcely be exaggerated. We need a widespread understanding of the challenges the people of this country now face, and genuine commitment to a new vision of lifelong learning to meet them.

"To start the process, the White Paper should set out a radical programme of reforms, to carry the Government through at least one term of office, and beyond."

The report, drawn up by a committee of specialists from education, industry and trade unions, was ordered by Mr Blunkett in July.

Proposals include: * Nationwide publicity campaign to promote lifelong learning; * New digital learning TV channel and prime-time advertisements for education; * A Millennium Learning Foundation to channel lottery money into local educational projects; * Tax breaks for course fees - and possible tax concessions to help people buy basic computers; * Learning centres linked to the Internet in schools, libraries, council offices, pubs or even homes; * Free education "health checks" for adults; * Reform of student support to extend help to part-timers; * New national targets for education.

Professor Bob Fryer, principal of the Northern College in Barnsley, chaired the advisory group during its five-month inquiry. Writing exclusively in today's tes, he says: "Nothing short of a complete overhaul of educational strategy will be sufficient.

"Unless far more is done to provide learning opportunities for the millions of people already in the workforce who have had few, if any, such chances to engage in learning since leaving school, the widespread changes in work will overwhelm many."

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and vice-chairman of the working group, said there could be no overnight revolution, but radical changes were needed in the long run.

He said: "We were asked to write a report that looks at the questions as radically as we wanted to.

"To turn an oil tanker around, you have to first decide where you want to go. We are putting down the principles about where we would like to go."

He said all Government departments should focus their efforts on education. "I would like every council and every organisation to consider how each decision affects lifelong learning," he said.

The Fryer Report builds on recommendations in the Dearing Report on higher education, and Helena Kennedy's report on FE.

It will be seen as hugely influential, as ministers draw up their plans for the new year.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has already pledged to bring 500,000 extra students into higher and further education by the end of this parliament.

OPINION, page 21 FE FOCUS, pages 30-31

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