Ian Nash interviews Bob Fryer about the task of drawing up a blueprint for a lifelong learning society
Professor Bob Fryer's committee of the great and the good meets for the first time today to thrash out an agenda to enable the Government to launch a cultural revolution.
Education and Employment Minister Baroness Blackstone had pledged to transform adult and continuing education into a "lifetime learning entitlement" within five years. Professor Fryer, chair of the Government's hand-picked working group, has been asked for a blueprint.
He remains remarkably sanguine despite the daunting task: to spell out how Helena Kennedy's seven pages of recommendations to expand FE can be made to work, to come up with models for Welfare to Work, to carry out the immediate demands of the Dearing inquiry into HE and to give advice on the University for Industry.
And - just for starters - ministers want his committee to rush through the fastest-ever national consultations (by September) to frame a consensus for a radical White Paper on Lifelong Learning in the autumn.
Cynics argue that the committee has been dumped with the lot because ministers are clueless after 18 years in the wilderness of Opposition. Supporters say it is the first determined effort to frame a national consensus on education and training since the 1944 Education Act.
Professor Fryer is clearly in the latter camp. "The first thing we will do today is draw a deep breath," he told The TES. "We will have to run very hard to reach our short-term goal and make a contribution to the lifelong learning White Paper."
But that will not prevent his team drafting proposals almost immediately on the implementation of the Kennedy Report's recommendations to widen participation in FE.
"Some issues are relatively easily implemented," he insisted. "For example, there are many good case studies on the better use of existing resources to encourage people who failed at school back into education and training. "
Student guidance, counselling and advice systems were often excellent. "But are the courses and programmes they lead to up to it?" In the longer term, the committee will make recommendations on the reallocation of cash and on the ways in which the various sources can be combined.
"People excluded from education in the past must be the first to be given another chance to learn. We must make sure they get a fair share of the resources."
As principal of the Northern College, a very successful residential adult education centre in Barnsley, he has seen many worthy attempts to share good practice crash on the rocks of vested interests and the failure to co-operate in any truly strategic way.
So, one of the first things his committee will do will be to scrutinise college three-year strategic plans to see whether anything more than lip-service is given to co-operation and strategic planning.
Local authorities, training and enterprise councils, the careers service, employers - all will be monitored to see how effectively they are spending cash on strategic links.
"I want no more schemes which rapidly fall into disrepute because they do not have the quality nor meet the needs of young people," he said. Equal attention will be given to the needs of the over-25s who are long-term unemployed.
It may sound highly interventionist. But that was not the point, he insisted. "It is not a question of intervening or encroaching on others, that will not be our approach. In giving advice to ministers, we want to make sure all the gaps are filled by collaboration. A lot of support provided is relatively uncoordinated."
Professor Fryer is in no doubt that new money will be needed and that ministers will have to find new cash if the cultural revolution in post-school education is to succeed. The windfall cash would meet part of it but more would be needed.
"But, to bid for new money, we have to be absolutely clear that we are getting the best out of existing money and that people who are on programmes are given the best possible service," he said. Colleges were only too well aware of how cut after cut had been pushed through by government in the name of efficiency.
WHO'S WHO ON THE FRYER COMMITTEE
Chair: Bob Fryer principal, Northern College
Vice chair: Alan Tuckett director, NIACE
Jacqui Bufton Gloucestershire County Council
Carolyn Daines Workers Educational Association
John Field Jordanstown Campus, County Antrim
Dan Finn University of Portsmouth
Hywel Francis University of Wales
Leisha Fullick London Borough of Islington
Pat Gale Darlington College of Technology
Lucia Jones BBC
Sarah Perman TUC
Tom Schuller University of Edinburgh
Peter Scott University of Leeds
Maggie Semple Arts Council of England
Gordon Stokes North Warwickshire and,Hinckley College
David Taylor Potterton Myson
Janice Shiner Further Education Funding Council
Maureen Banbury Office for Standards in Education
Felicity Everiss, DFEE