The Lost Generation
This year the Learning and Skills Council will receive £11 billion pounds of public money, more than the Royal Navy, yet the Government is failing to improve the nation’s skills. Today there are 1.25 million young people aged 16-24 not in education, training or employment up 15% since 1997. While we waste a lost generation’s potential, we add to their number – 45,000 16-year-olds leave school each year functionally illiterate and/or innumerate.
Participation in further education, adult and community learning and work-based learning are all in decline. This week NIACE reported that there are half a million fewer adults in learning than a year ago. The proportion of adults currently learning or having done so in the last three years has fallen to just 41%.
No wonder the Government is failing when so much public money lost in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. One study identified 9 layers of administration that a pound of public expenditure must pass through on its way from Whitehall to the learners themselves.
So concerned are the Government at their failure to tackle the skills crisis that they commissioned two high-level reviews into the sector. Sir Andrew Foster was asked to look at Further Education. His report recognised that FE colleges are stifled by regulation and strangled by red tape. He recommended radical change for colleges and ‘less centralisation and moves to greater self-regulation’. Lord Sandy Leitch was asked to look at skills. Lord Leitch, like Sir Andrew Forster, recommended radical reform and an end to central planning which he argues has ‘a poor track record’.
Yet none of these recommendations are included in the FE and Training Bill which received its Second Reading in the Commons yesterday. It is bizarre, even by the standards of this Government, to ask for detailed studies and simultaneously introduce a Bill which pays no attention whatsoever to their reports.
At best the Bill is a wasted opportunity, at worst a regressive step, tightening bureaucrats’ suffocating grip on FE. Why on earth does the Government think that the Learning and Skills Council should be given sweeping new powers to sack college Principals, Governors and senior managers?
Britain’s future depends on a skills base built on the fulfilled potential of a new generation of craftsmen. That generation’s future is being jeopardised by the obstinate inaction of Ministers who should know better.
John Hayes is Co-Chairman of The Cornerstone Group