MPs who are a few skills short of a set

13th October 2006 at 01:00
It comes to something when this diary has to stand up for the Learning and Skills Council, which is surely big enough and ugly enough to stand up for itself.

But the comments of MPs, who took part in a survey reported on our front page this week, really take the biscuit.

Anyone who has been awake for the past five years has heard the Government and the LSC banging on about skills for long enough to know that there's something going on. And even the most cynical observer would have a hard time suggesting that skills is an area the Government has been ignoring.

So where have all these MPs been? And who are they to talk when they say there's too much academic education and not enough skills training? After all, the number of people who have seen daylight between leaving school - let alone the grim reality of vocational training - and entering politics is pretty small. Assuming politics really is their vocation.

A quick FErret survey, based on a random sample of 10 MPs, shows that academic learning - that's the stuff MPs say there's too much emphasis on - is all most of them know.

Just for the record, their qualifications are as follows: Francis Hywel, Labour, history BA and PhD; Betty Williams, Labour, degree in "communications"; John Greenway, Conservative, Hendon Police College course; Dan Rogerson, Liberal Democrat, politics degree; Karen Buck, Labour, MA in social policy and administration; Ruth Kelly, politics and economics degree (Oxbridge, naturally, because she's a minister); Mark Todd, Labour, history degree; Ed Balls, Labour, philosophy, politics and economics degree; Gary Streeter, Conservative, law degree; Julie Morgan, Labour, postgrad diploma in social administration.

I grant you some of these qualifications seem pretty sensible for a life in politics. But are they vocational? And wouldn't a hands-on Level 2 course in sophistry and reading a pager do just as well?

About time we created a Sector Skills Council for politicians. And, just like college lecturers, we could tell them they have to at least be working towards a professional qualification by a certain date if they want to keep their posts.

On the other hand, perhaps MPs don't need any training at all. After all, how difficult is it to vote in the House of Commons? The rest of us vote and seem to manage the task perfectly well without training - and we have to make our own minds up without the luxury of being told what our opinion is by an army of whips.

So, LSC. Next time you hear an MP complaining about vocational training, give them a skills assessment. You'd be doing all of us a favour.

Certainly the contents of this week's FErret postbag would suggest politicians could do with improving their reputations. A survey of teenagers suggests they rank MPs alongside the family dog in the respect stakes. OK, some people have more respect for dogs than they do for humans but, to put it in context, only 1 per cent of teenagers respect dogs.

The same goes for local politicians, according to the survey, carried out by MORI for the Local Government Association. Apparently, the pooch is as likely to influence a teenager as is a member of the House of Commons or of Little Bigton parish council.

So dogs are as clever as politicians? Shows what you can do when you've been trained.

Email us FErret@tes.co.uk

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