No cheap solutions;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
THE Queen's Speech this week was designed to underpin David Blunkett's promise of a programme of reforms which will give more people than ever before the chance to carry on learning throughout their lives.

Through new legislation, the Education Secretary will pave the way for a youth support service which will encourage disaffected young people to stay in education. And the creation of a Learning and Skills Council for England (and a Council for Education and Training in Wales) will demolish many of the barriers between public and private provision of education and training after the age of 16.

But the real devil will be in the detail of the new learning and skills Bill, much of which is still unclear. Wherever Mr Blunkett looks, he sees people with grievances. Next week in Harrogate he can expect a full rehearsal of them when he faces leaders at the Association of Colleges conference - the biggest post-16 gathering in the educational calendar.

Mr Blunkett has still to tackle a whole raft of controversial issues which are making the colleges restless. Unfair funding at A-level penalises them by favouring schools, while the Curriculum 2000 reforms will make such problems worse, as they are more expensive for colleges.

Many fear that the Learning and Skills Council (and its 47 local satellites) will undermine the independence of colleges. Draft plans from civil servants suggest highly prescriptive and centralised control. Nor has the Government addressed the widespread anxiety concerning plans for OFSTED to take over college inspections.

Even welcome elements in the strategy bring their own difficulties. With record numbers of adults, young and old, in education and training, student hardship is at crisis point. What's more, those still out of reach are the poorest, the jobless, the excluded, and the most alienated. Attracting them into education or training will not be easy - or cheap.

The Queen's Speech proposals offer, in Mr Blunkett's words "a framework around the needs of learners, rather than the providers of education and training". Good. But how can more learners be brought inside the framework?

There was a timely reminder in the Commons Education and Employment Select Committee report last week. Despite record levels of people in post-16 learning, the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" is greater than ever.

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