Labour is failing the test on educational reform – by John Hayes MP

hayesThe Queens Speech is still more evidence of Labour’s increasingly byzantine bureaucracy. In my particular frontbench field, the forthcoming Children, Skills and Learning Bill threatens to surpass all previous Labour attempts to create an ill-functioning, convoluted and incoherent structures guaranteed to thwart the best attempts of our citizens to improve their circumstances by acquiring skills.  

More worryingly still, the major sections of the bill, a restructuring of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and an increased emphasis on apprenticeships, are an implicit recognition of the Government’s failure in this vital area. The LSCs failure, exemplified by off-target apprenticeship numbers, has been economically and socially detrimental. This failure is one that the economy and society simply cannot cover.

The constant, unhelpful activity that has characterised Labour policy in this area of education, skills and apprenticeships is distilled in this latest bill. The restructuring of the LSC heralds the third time that the skills funding system has been restructured since 2001. Yet instead of replacing this bureaucratic leviathan with deregulation and a streamlined system of funding as we suggest instead it is to be replaced with three more costly quangos! Moreover, the belated apparent emphasis on apprenticeships is nothing more than an unconvincing attempt by Labour to hide their failure to address Britain’s skills shortage. Their unwillingness  to create quality, level 3 apprenticeships that teach and test genuine vocational competences betrays our industrial heritage; a glorious past that sits uneasily with the current Governments record.

Conservatives know that aspiration is not the problem. People want to gain skills, provide for their families and take pride in their work. It is access, opportunity and information that are the real problem, deficiencies which this bill will do little or nothing to address.  

Our skills policy, focussing on a massive increase in real, employer-led apprenticeships and cutting education providers free from the bind of needless bureaucracy will undo this Gordian knot. It will achieve this as it is guided by a simple principle; employer need and learner choice, not government dictats, should drive the system. Our aim too, is simple: ensuring people can elevate their sights above the mediocrity which is the product of predominant public policy assumptions. When they do so, through the craft they have gained, a new generation of skilled Britons will build a better Britain.

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