The professor says: the country needs lifelong learning

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Summary of Learning for the 21st Century, the first report of the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning.

The need

This country needs to develop a new learning culture, a culture of lifelong learning for all. It is essential to help the country and all of its people meet the challenges they now face as they move towards the 21st century.

Those challenges are to be found in many different spheres of life. They feature in the economy and labour market, in the need to meet increased competition and in the requirement for new skills and capacities at work.

They are evident in the demand for new products and services and in the radical and far-reaching transformations in technology, information and communications now in train. There are also wide-ranging changes to be addressed in families, communities, relationships and in people's aspirations and very identities.

A culture of lifelong learning can act as a resource in the midst of change, helping people both to cope with change and in their strivings to shape it to their own devices, as active citizens.

As things stand, although a good many people in this country already achieve high levels of competence and qualifications, through school and post-compulsory education, there still exists a deep "learning divide" in our society.

On one side of the divide stand those who have already attained qualifications and who carry on with an active involvement in learning throughout their lives, both in work and beyond.

They still constitute a minority, although their numbers have been growing over recent years. On the other side stands the majority, including those who have little to show by way of formal qualification and achievement or who have not been involved in systematic learning since leaving compulsory educational and declare that they have no wish or plans to do so. Such a divide is incompatible with a culture of lifelong learning for all.

The task ahead

Establishing such a culture represents a major task for everyone in this country, especially for the Government and those people whose job it is to fund, promote or provide learning.

They will all need to modify their approach and behaviour, if lifelong learning for all is to become a reality.

The biggest change of all will be required in the attitudes of individuals and groups, particularly among those who are not currently engaged in lifelong learning activities, who demonstrate no inclination to become involved or enjoy few opportunities to develop their abilities, interests or capacities through learning.

The first and most urgent task is for the Government to set out a strategic framework for the promotion of lifelong learning in this country and to win widespread support for it.

The strategic framework should be based on a clear vision of lifelong learning for all. It should embrace both compulsory and post-school education, in all its forms and be based upon the eight core principles set out in our report.

It should inspire and engage the imagination, commitment and energy of people in all walks of life, making the case by explaining the changes in work, the community and technology.

It should indicate the role of lifelong learning in maintainin g the country's competitiveness in a global economy and in the development of new skills, dignity, confidence and opportunities for all its people. It should also explain the contribution of lifelong learning in securing greater social cohesion in this country.

A revolution in attitudes

The new strategic framework should lay the foundation for a fundamental change in attitudes to lifelong learning To this end, a major national publicity campaign should be launched aimed at changing attitudes, enlisting the expert support and involvement of the media.

The campaign's purpose should be to generate much greater interest in lifelong learning, leading to a substantial increase in demand, especially from those traditionally absent or excluded from learning and achievement.

Securing this will require an alteration to many people's aspirations and engagement in learning.

The campaign should lead to new initiatives in marketing, recruitment and support for students by providers, to help change attitudes and behaviour.Once the University for Industry is established leading this campaign should be an early priority.

The revolution in attitudes and approach should also signal the beginning of a shift towards a greater sharing of the responsibility for lifelong learning between individuals, employers and the State.

Individuals should increasingly accept more control over the development of their own learning throughout life and, within their available resources, be ready to invest more in it themselves.

Government can contribute to this aspect of the shift in attitudes through making changes to existing fiscal, taxation, funding, grant and benefit policies and through the deployment of new initiatives, such as the New Deal and Individual Learning Accounts, in ways which enhance a sense of shared responsibility.

Widening participation and achievement

At the centre of the new strategy must be a clear commitment to widening and deepening participation and achievement in learning. Full use should be made by the further and higher funding councils and others of the various funding mechanisms available to finance learning and learners, and giving priority to widening participation.

Funders and managers should deploy resources to support systematic outreach and development work, making sure that institutions and individuals who succeed in opening up opportunities are suitably recognised and rewarded.

More energy and imagination needs to be given, too, to the development of skills of literacy and numeracy amongst the fifth of adults who currently lack them. Learning providers should also focus upon building up the confidence, self-esteem and real achievement of new lifelong learners, making sure that the relevant expertise, support and methods of recognising attainment are all in place.

Attracting funding for such new learners should rest upon providers demonstrating - through appropriate performance indicators, inspection and review - that they have a clear understanding of the diverse needs of potential new learners and have devised sound and high quality arrangements to meet them.

All providers should seek to show year-on-year improvements in widening participation, and some elements of recurrent funding should be tied to this.

The new strategy should give increased emphasis to the home, community and workplace as key places of learning.

There should be greater recognition of the major contribution each can make to the development of a culture of lifelong learning for all and to the enlargement of contemporary citizenship.

It should inform the establishmen t of the National Grid for Learning and constitute a key part of the work of the proposed University for Industry, acting as a catalyst for change and broker of new opportunities in each of these areas.

Family learning schemes should be enthusiastically supported and extended,with active involvement from local authorities, educational providers, other public authorities and agencies, voluntary organisations and community groups. Arrangements should be made, by providers, awarding bodies and schools, for parents and other family and household members to secure educational achievements for themselves alongside children.

This should include sponsoring the preparation and piloting of dedicated materials, and supporting the development, training and deployment of staff to foster family learning.

In the community, support should be given to projects and initiatives intended to build capacity, strengthen voluntary organisation and contribute to social and economic regeneration.

In the workplace, there should be a major effort directed at enhancing and updating skills, especially amongst those groups of staff who are frequently not involved in learning programmes.

Employers and unions should work together to build on the early success of Modern Apprenticeships, employee development schemes, Bargaining for Skills and achievement of the Investors in People standard.

Providers and training and enter-prise councils should offer support through improved needs and labour market analysis and the provision of focused programmes of learning.

The University for Industry should assist with the identification of skill shortages and learning needs, brokering new learning pathways and partnerships, commissioning new learning materials and fostering the widespread use of new media.

Individual Learning Accounts should be targeted particularly at those people with low skills, on low wages or who are seeking to return to the labour market.

Consultation should take place between Government and the representatives of employers and trade unions on the possibility of developing a Code of Good Practice to promote workplace learning

Home, community and the workplace

Funders, providers and awarding bodies should all address the urgent need to reduce complexity, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape, cut out duplication and simplify progression routes, qualifications and learning pathways.

Links between different forms and levels of learning should be understandable, transparent and as flexible as possible. This calls for effective leadership from senior managers of funding bodies, providers and those responsible for qualifications and awards.

They should collaborate in simplifying and integrating their arrangements.Government should declare this work a priority, requiring the production of reports on progress from publicly-funded bodies, such as the funding councils, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, educationa l inspectorates and Audit Commission.

Work should begin on the creation of a new national credit framework.

It should build on the support expressed in the Kennedy Committee on Widening Participation, the Dearing Review of Higher Education and the work already completed in Wales to establish such a framework, known as CREDIS.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should also give a lead in the development of a national system of recording and signalling learning activity and achievement. We have in mind the development of a national, widely used Record of Achievement, or what has more recently been referred to by Sir Nicholas Goodison and the Dearing Review of Higher Education as a "progress file". Properly organised and widely recognised, the use of such a method of recording learning would contribute to learners' own sense of ownership and management of their own learning, engaging them in monitoring and reviewing their own progress throughout life.

Partnerships, planning and collaboration

Effective partnership and greater collaboration will make a major contribution to providing lifelong learning opportunities for all.

At regional level, the co-ordination of strategic planning should involve the new Regional Development Agencies and be led locally by local authorities, working in partnership with other local stakeholders, including employers, unions, voluntary bodies, TECs and providers.

Where appropriate at regional, sub-regional local or workplace levels - consideration should be given to the formation of Lifelong Learning Forums whose brief should be to review local needs, set targets, co-ordinate provision, open up new learning pathways and monitor progress.

Arrangements should be made amongst local partners for appropriate cross representation on committees and boards where this will strengthen collaboration.

The Government should provide guidance to local authorities on their responsibility to secure adequacy of provision in adult learning.

After consultation with the Local Government Association, each local authority should be required to produce a lifelong learning strategic development plan.

Within local arrangements providers, employers and local authorities should co-operate to establish a network of learning centres, widely available to members of local communities, and connected in due course to the proposed National Grid for Learning.

Information, advice and guidance

The provision of up-to-date, accessible and impartial information and advice will be essential if a strategy of lifelong learning for all is to be successful.

This will enable many more people to access learning and increasingly take some responsibility for planning the development of their own learning throughout life. There should be a universal minimum entitlement to initial information and advice, free at the point of use and leading to more specialist services for which some charges might be made.

The national learning helpline, Learning Direct, should be supplemented by local partnerships and networks of information, advice and guidance involving all key local partners including careers services and other professionals engaged in providing guidance and advice.

The aim should be to establish a high-quality, tiered range of services running from initial "sign posting" information through to intensive and, where necessary face-to-face detailed guidance.

New data targets and standards

The new strategy should be underpinned by rich and robust information. If targets are to be set and progress towards them is to be properly monitored, reliable comparative data will be needed. Current provision needs to be fully mapped and audited so that a clearer view of needs can be secured nationally, regionally, locally and in different sectors of the economy.

To achieve this, there should be close co-operation between Government, public authorities, statisticians and university-based researchers. Government should take the lead in establishing these discussions, with a view to agreeing the appropriate levels and series of data that will be necessary to support the implementation of its strategy.

We welcome the forthcoming consultation on the National Education and Training Targets.

As part of that review, we recommend that further consideration be given to ways in which other forms and stages of achievement can be captured both in the targets themselves and in the information collected to monitor progress. Many kinds of involvement in learning, levels and stages of achievement, and types of participation are not currently included in the national targets and this should be remedied.

As they stand, the national targets do not adequately reflect the extent of lifelong learning in this country. Nor, in this respect, do they act as an incentive and encouragement to further learning, which is one of the national targets' most valuable functions.

In the consultation about the targets, we suggest that consideration also be given to establishing measures which can properly indicate progress in widening involvement in lifelong learning amongst particular social groups which are currently under-represented.

Within the new targets it should then be possible to establish appropriate regional, local and sectoral targets, making use of the improved, additional data that we recommend be collected and published.

New technologies

The new technologies of communication and information should be effectively harnessed to support lifelong learning wherever it occurs.

Government should initiate discussions with broadcasters and the appropriate regulator authorities to explore the best ways for broadcasting to promote learning, through both mainstream and dedicated learning channels.

The discussions should include arrangements to ensure that, as digital broadcasting is introduced it is deployed to support learners and learning as a major contribution to the development of a learning culture for all.

Particular attention should be given to widening access to new information technology and to ensuring that individuals acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to access and be able to make full use of it.

Funding should be made available to establish and equip local learning centres, linked to the proposed National Grid for Learning.

Skills and standards in using information technology should be established by all awarding bodies and plans should be laid for these to be included in the national curriculum, in all national vocational qualifications and general national vocational qualifications, in A-levels and all programmes of further and higher education.

Resources should be devoted by funders and senior managers in providing for the developmen t of staff competence in the use and teaching of new technology through appropriate programmes of staff development and, where helpful, qualifications.

Inspection frameworks should be revised to include a review of institutions' progress in supporting this work. In developing a new national framework of information technology provision, use should be made wherever possible of the systems already established.

In further and higher education through JANET, SUPER JANET and through the competitiveness fund.

Funding and finance

Over the lifetime of this Parliament the aim should be, step-by-step to increase the total volume of funding deployed to support lifelong learning by the Government, other public authorities, charitable bodies and individuals themselves.

The aim of public funding should be to:

- release maximum leverage from public investment;

- relate the balance of public and private expenditure to evidence on rates of return to individuals from learning;

- concentrate the release of new public resources on those who have not yet achieved qualifications to NVQ Level 3;

- stimulate employer investment for all employees in all sectors of the economy;

- encourage increased individual investment in learning, including through use of Individual Learning Accounts;

- create a regulatory and funding regime where institutions are responsive to the needs of lifelong learners;

- widen participation to include people currently excluded from existing provision.

Government should take the lead in setting up a new lifelong learning millennium foundation, building on the ideas set out by Helena Kennedy to create a learning regenerati on fund.

The new foundation should promote innovation, disseminate good practice, and pump-prime new initiatives.

It should be a public-private sector initiative with a small executive staff. It should draw on lottery funding from the year 2000 with matching public and private sector funding (until such funding is available, Government should make interim funds available for specific local initiatives). Its principal aims should be to:

- foster innovation in lifelong learning;

- support specific initiatives to develop lifelong learning for non-participant groups;

- encourage projects which support learning through the family and in the community.

The principles informing access to public funds should be the same for part-time and full-time students, and the Government should move towards equalising public investment for the same "episode of learning" irrespective of sector, mode or level of learning.

As an initial step, and once the new scheme for full-time students in higher education has been implemented, plans should be made for loans for learners to be available on a means-tested basis to part-time learners.

Steps should also be taken to end the age discrimination which denies access to loans to people over 50 years of age.

Over the lifetime of this parliament, Government should initiate discussions to facilitate a full review by all concerned of the appropriate balance of funding to be achieved between different forms and levels of lifelong learning This should include consideration of priorities for funding within different levels of provision and achievement as well as between them.

Particular attention should be given to the devotion of resources to securing basic education, core skills and skills in information technology for the whole of the population.

The review should include a consideration of how best employers and individuals can contribute resources to lifelong learning. This should be not only through their energetic support for, and use of Individual Learning Accounts and through varieties of workplace learning, but also by making use of possible tax and fiscal incentives that might be introduced, following consultation and costing.

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