Ministers too busy for lifelong learning

6th March 1998 at 00:00
They have exhorted the rest of us to do it, yet many Government ministers are finding they are too busy to indulge in any lifelong learning of their own.

Admittedly, a few had good intentions before they came to power. None more so than the minister for lifelong learning himself.

Dr Kim Howells had taken up Italian from scratch and was attending classes to polish his rusty German. He had even enrolled on a course of video programme-making so he could understand what goes on at the BBC.

But all this came to an abrupt halt with his time-consuming new job at the Department for Education and Employment.

A similar fate has befallen Baroness Blackstone. The flexible Baroness used to sneak off during her lunch hours to engage in difficult balancing and stretching exercises in an attempt to master yoga. Sadly, however, she too has been weighed down by new responsibilities..

As for the rest of the DFEE ministers, they chose to make their reply to The TES a team effort and interpret lifelong learning as furthering their political careers.

"Ministers embarked on a steep learning curve last May when they took ministerial responsibilities following the election," they explained.

Bob Fryer, chairman of Government's task group on lifelong learning, said: "We can learn new things in work such as problem-solving and interpersonal relationships but the idea is to expand on what we learn there and look to learn in other locales such as evening courses, walks, gallery visits and through television."

The Home Office does not believe it is doing any learning. Minister Joyce Quin, and parliamentary under secretaries of state George Howarth and Mike O'Brien openly admitted none of them had squeezed even a few cookery classes in in the past three years.

One man has refused to allow the demands of his job to stop his progress. Government curriculum adviser and chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Nick Tate is working on a unit of national vocational qualification level 5 management as well as keeping up his French with a regular tutor. Maybe the others need to take some lessons from him.

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