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'We are in a parlous state' – Skills expert attacks 25 years of poor policies

The outgoing head of a leading skills body has attacked policy-makers for failing to get to grips with the issue over the last quarter of a century.

Jane Scott Paul, who has worked for the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) for 27 years, is retiring this month after 17 years as its chief executive. But she said that she was disappointed that despite considerable effort, intervention and money spent on skills policy, “we still don’t seem to be able to get it right.”

“With almost one million young people not in education, employment or training we really are in a parlous state,” she told TES. “I appreciate we are in economic difficulties, but there isn’t a good fit between the needs of the economy and what we are turning out through the education and skills sector.

“I think what we tend to be seeing is more of the same, almost a rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic, rather than a reasoned set of interventions based on evidence.”

Ms Scott Paul (pictured) was particularly critical of the government’s aim to get more employers involved in designing skills and qualifications.

“It sounds fantastic; we have a succession of policies that are supposed to be about employer engagement, but actually we don’t seem to have any more of it than before,” she said.

Ms Scott Paul said another disappointment was that, despite much progress, the further education sector still does not get the recognition or respect it deserves.

“There are some fantastic FE institutions out there at their heart of their communities, but recognition of their work is still quite patchy and people still don’t understand FE very well,” she said.

“I can’t praise highly enough FE lecturers at the chalkface who are committed and do it for relatively low reward, both financially and in terms of recognition.

“The sector is caught between universities and schools, which have stamped out their territory pretty well. FE still needs to stand proud and shout loud about what it does. It has a real opportunity to compete and to take the lead with skills-based learning in particular.”

Before becoming chief executive of AAT in 1997, Ms Scott Paul headed the association’s education and training division and pioneered the introduction of large scale, skills-based training for accounting technicians.

Under her leadership membership has grown from 40,000 to 125,000, and in 2008 she was awarded the OBE for services to the accountancy profession.

Ms Scott Paul will step down at the end of March. Mark Farrar, former CEO of the Construction Industry's Training Board, will take over.

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