Too slanted to working lives;FE Focus

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Neil Munro reports on criticism of the Government's blueprint for lifelong learning

The Government's definition of lifelong learning in its consultation paper issued last week remains too narrow, according to a leading Scottish campaigner.

Fiona Blacke, director of the Scottish Campaign for Learning, says she is "disappointed at the lack of emphasis on learning which is not connected to vocational qualifications or the workplace".

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, went out of her way in her speech launching a four-month consultation to emphasise that "it would be wrong and too narrow to see this Government's focus as being to develop learning opportunities solely in relation to work." Lifelong learning was also about personal development and growth and developing "good citizenship".

But Ms Blacke says this is insufficiently spelt out in the document itself. She also said she was "startled" that a paper which purports to be about lifelong learning had nothing to say about adult literacy, given that one in five adults in Scotland (500,000 people) have significant reading difficulties.

"Our current provision reaches only 1 per cent of these people," she pointed out. The equivalent English Green paper set aside specific sums both for adult literacy and for community learning projects, another missing link in the Scottish paper which is entitled Opportunity Scotland.

Ms Blacke added: "We need a cultural shift in Scotland to sustain lifelong learning and I don't see anything in the document which will help that process. The Scottish University for Industry supposedly will, but we are not told how."

The Campaign for Learning believes little has changed since a 1996 Mori poll on attitudes to learning found that, while 71 per cent of adults in Scotland acknowledged that learning could lead to a better quality of life, 63 per cent said they were unlikely to take part in a course of any sort over the next 12 months. A quarter "neither value learning nor practise it".

The motivational importance behind people's willingness to learn was also stressed by Ron Gow, chairman of the education and training committee at the Scottish CBI, the employers' organisation.

He said businesses would find it "irksome" if they are forced to give 16 and 17-year-olds paid time off for study or training.

"A day off a week leaves a hole in the business, especially for small businesses," Mr Gow said. "It is not likely to improve motivation for learning - on either side. Both parties must agree what they will get out of it."

Mr Gow said good employers already provided access to learning and time off for study. "But this must be linked to both having an understanding that while the facilities may be there, particularly IT, it is up to individuals how they use them."

The FE colleges meanwhile face further upheavals, not just in generating new courses but also in the review of how non-advanced FE is funded and administered.

The review will start in the autumn following a national conference to launch a consultation document. This is likely to focus on the Fast-Trac development in Fife which pools the Scottish Office grant and bursary money for non-advanced FE students with training money held by the local enterprise company.

Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said any nationwide extension of the Fife project would have to be considered carefully. "It will depend crucially on the quality of the relationship between the colleges and the local enterprise companies, which in Fife happens to be particularly good."

The lifelong learning paper also announced a review of the way colleges use the pound;44 million spent on student bursaries. And the document confirms the introduction of an education maintenance allowance for 16-18 year olds, which the Chancellor announced in July. It will be paid for by scrapping universal child benefit for 16-18s; pilots would start next September.

The colleges say they have found nothing unexpected in the proposals. Mr Kelly welcomed "forward-looking plans which at least carry commitments of significant funding".

But he called for speedy clarification of the 42,000 extra college and university students. "The balance between part-time and full-time students, between non-advanced and higher education courses, will be a crucial issue since a greater proportion of full-time non-advanced courses, for example, will have major implications for student bursaries."

A philosophical objection to the Government's plans came from Barbara Clark, assistant general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. "There is this huge and sweeping assumption that only a well trained and educated workforce will lead to a successful economy. Bunkum. A successful economy is what provides a well-trained and educated workforce."

But Stephanie Young, Scotland's only director of lifelong learning at the Glasgow Development Agency, said the document was "a foundation for lifelong learning". The Scottish parliament should signal a symbolic shift in attitude by appointing a "minister for learning" rather than an education minister, she said.


* The Scottish University for Industry will have been launched to bring learning to people using call centre technology, backed by over pound;16.3 million from the Government.

* All schools, colleges, universities, libraries and many community centres will be connected to the National Grid for Learning, to which the Scottish Office is committing pound;62 million from 1999-2002.

* More than pound;100 million is being invested to add another 42,000 full-time and part-time students to further and higher education, while pound;6 million will allow part-time unemployed and low income students in HE to have free tuition.

lSome pound;22 million will create 100,000 'individual learning accounts' which the Government will kick-start with pound;150 for every person willing to pay an initial pound;25.

* The pound;95 million University of the Highlands and Islands project will be up and running, helped by more than pound;20 million from the Government over its first four years.

* A total of 150,000 are expected to have benefited from the pound;300 million new deal (for the unemployed) and new futures (for the seriously disadvantaged) programmes.

lThere will be 15,000 modern apprentices, double the present number, and more young people qualified to SVQ level 3 through Skillseekers.

* All 16 and 17-year-olds in work will have the legal right to paid time off for study or training for an SVQ level 2 qualification or equivalent.

* Higher Still courses will be in place along with a Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

* There will be a new strategic framework for FE to reduce "needless competition between colleges".

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