Lost in schemes

It
is easy to get lost in a thicket of government learning schemes. But a little
context sheds light on New Labour’s habits of reinvention. By Stephen Overell

Adult
learning has long been a subject that makes people’s eyes glaze over. Put this fact
together with the Government’s propensity for announcing policy initiatives
several times over and it makes keeping up with what is happening in the skills
field a subject of headache-inducing pedantry. So for the benefit of personnel
professionals who can’t devote their lives to the DfEE, what follows is
intended as context to the dozens of adult learning announcements.

Let
us go back to Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference on 26
September last year. As you would expect, it contained a flurry of policy
statements  in a bid to excite the
faithful about where the Government was up to on its assorted programmes. Among
them were the following: there are to be 6,000 new centres around Britain to
give people access to the Internet; everyone would get an 80 per cent discount
on computer courses; the unemployed would get them free and there are also to
be 1,000 more technology centres for small businesses and the self-employed.

To
begin unpicking all this, you need to go back even further – to 11 September,
2000. This was the day that Tony Blair first announced that everyone should
have access within two years to one of 6,000 online centres, called UK Online,
placed in shopping centres and community halls around Britain, as part of an
initiative aimed at disadvantaged communities. To fund it, £252m would be
available from the Capital Modernisation Fund, together with £77.5m to help
with running costs from the New Opportunities Fund, aka the National Lottery.

So
he repeated his announcement at a party conference. Fair enough. But those
figures – £252m and £77.5m – might jog some memories. They are exactly the same
figures that were used to launch another government initiative dating back to
the Budget of March 1999, the ICT Learning Centres programme.

The
chances are that you won’t have heard of this scheme. It was aimed at bridging
the information-rich, information-poor divide, helping disadvantaged
communities and others who lack access to the Internet gain support in basic
ICT skills. Under the programme 700 centres were to be set up by 2002 in
community centres and shopping malls to provide internet access. To fund it
£252m would be available from the Capital Modernisation Fund, together with
£77.5m to help with running costs from the New Opportunities Fund. It was to
have been rolled out in September 2000.

So,
to recap. UK Online is in truth partly new. The ICT Learning Centres programme
has effectively been rebranded as part of the UK Online initiative. Rather than
700 centres by 2002, there are now to be 6,000 by 2002. Instead of the main
roll-out of the programme in September 2000, the small print of the government
press release launching UK Online says that, “by February 2001, the majority of
the 616 centres in this phase of the project will be ready to open.” Cynics
might say that rather than admit a delay to an obscure programme no one had
heard of, how typical of New Labour to rename it and relaunch it. Others might
say it does not really matter anyway – 6,000 centres are better than 700 and what
is wrong with extending an existing programme when delivery on the ground is
what matters. As of mid-March 2001, there were 1,200 centres opened.

But
what of the money? Is that £252m and £77.5m that were destined to fund 700
centres now to be stretched to fund 6,000? The DfEE admits the situation is
rather confusing, but adds that 700 centres were only ever an initial
intention. Perhaps. Although you’d never guess it from the documents.

How
about that announcement that there are to be 80 per cent discounts on computer
courses? Well, while experts may squabble about whether an 80 per cent discount
or a 100 per cent discount is the best way to attract people to learn computer
skills, what this announcement actually referred to was one of New Labour’s big
ideas that has not had much of a press recently – Individual Learning Accounts,
a manifesto commitment. ILAs went national in September 2000, the month of Mr
Blair’s speech. One of the main incentives to open an ILA is an 80 per cent
discount on computer courses. The Government is ideologically opposed to “free”
learning for those in work because it believes the responsibility for skills
development needs to be shared between Government, employers and individual
learners. And there are caveats galore, which Mr Blair understandably skipped.

For
the record: if you want to learn anything but specified computer skills, you
will be lucky if you get a 20 per cent discount. You will be luckier still if
you are one of the first one million account holders, as you will qualify for a
£150 incentive from the Government, provided you invest £25 of your own money
in the account. After the first million, it’s discounts only. So far, 683,016
ILAs have been opened.

And
finally, what of those 1,000 technology centres for small businesses or the
self-employed. This announcement actually refers to something many people will
have heard of: the University for In-dustry, one of Gordon Brown’s schemes. The
UfI opened its virtual campus in the autumn of last year. Under this initiative,
which runs under the brand name Learndirect, there are to be 1,000 centres (940
so far) based locally in shopping malls and community centres – although, not
just for small businesses and the self-employed; the UfI was and is supposed to
be open to everybody.

But
hold on. Again, in the small print of the UK Online press release, there is
some obscure, but important information. “The majority of UK Online centres
will also be Learndirect centres,” it says. In other words, at least 3,000 of
the Government’s 6,000 new UK Online centres are to be Learndirect centres –
far more than the 1,000 envisaged under the original UfI plans. But in other
words, the Government has effectively merged a flagship policy, the University
for Industry into another programme, the rather newer UK Online. And, for that
matter, it is not strictly true to say there will be 6,000 UK Online centres
and 1,000 technology centres. Rather, a lot of UK Online centres will also have
the UfI’s Learndirect learning materials available. A subtle difference.

So
how does Mr Blair’s impressive-sounding learning policies look in the light of
all this? They sound impressive still, though the Government doesn’t seem very
interested on making its plans clear to the widest possible audience. In fact,
for New Labour’s adult learning schemes, reinvention often appears to be a
priority.

Other
Key Government Learning Initiatives

Learning
Partnerships

The
partnerships were announced on 26 November 1998, with the idea being to rationalise
and subsume the huge variety of post-16 arrangements in different local areas.
The partnerships involve further education colleges, careers services, Training
and Enterprise Councils, local authorities, schools, employers, and a wide
range of other local agencies.

The
partnerships aim chiefly to improve planning and coherence of learning, careers
advice and student support; widen participation and eliminate duplication of
provision.

The
Government had initially provided funding totally £25m for three years (until
2002), at which point many in the field expected them to wither away as they
have no statutory role. But in the Budget, they received an additional £10m.
The Learning Partnerships network is complete with 110 members across the
country.

The
Connexions Service

Like
the LSC, the Connexions Service begins in April 2001. It is aimed at all young
people between the ages of 13 and 19, hoping to bring a more coherent framework
to the mass of agencies that currently deal with young people. But its primary
focus is to be on those who slip through the net – at present, a third of all
young people drop out or fail to achieve anything in full-time education.

The
role of the service is to:


Increase effective participation in learning up to 19


Help improve learning achievement at all levels of ability


Prevent the onset of disaffection and promote social inclusion


Provide practical support to over-come personal, family or social obstacles

The
main deliverers of Connexions will be personal advisers. They will be the key
point of contact with all government agencies and will be based in schools, in
youth offending services, careers services and so on. Anne Weinstock,
previously co-ordinating the Millennium Volunteers is to be the Connexions
chief executive.

The
agencies most affected are the Careers Service, which Connexions replaces, and
the Youth Services of local authorities. Connexions Partnerships are to be set
up on the LSC boundaries, which will be responsible for strategic planning and
funding, but smaller management committees, based on 150-odd local authority
boundaries, will take care of day to day operational delivery.

University
for Industry (UfI)/Learndirect

The
University for Industry, launched formally in the autumn of 2000, goes under
the brand name Learndirect. UfI hopes that one million people a year will be
taking its courses by 2003.

Learndirect
is Web-based, but for those without access at work or home, there are to be
1,000 Learndirect centres opened by spring 2001.

There
are nine key objectives of UfI/Learndirect (Source: DfEE):


Flexible, cost-effective training, particularly for SMEs


Marketing and promoting learning as a lifestyle activity


To be a single port of call offering access to information and advice on learning
opportunities


Develop strategies for engaging people in learning


The construction of a network of different types of learning centres in work,
retail and leisure locations and in the community


Branding an array of resource-based programmes with entitlement to tutorial
support


Encouraging the use of new technologies for learning programmes, for
communication and maintaining learner records


Developing strategic partnerships at sub-regional level, setting priorities,
targeting particular groups and rationalising provision


Collaboration with a wide range of organisations

The
1,000 learning centres are to be administered through about 100 “hubs” –
region-based, sector-based and corporate hubs (such as Sainsbury’s and the
RAF). The hubs and Learning Centres are entirely separate from UfI Ltd – they
contract with UfI to deliver learning, but UfI has little direct control over
the prices they charge or how they are run. The centres will charge for
courses, but basic skills will be free, as previously.

The
DfEE has pledged £84m to the end of 2001 to get Learndirect up and running and
the LSC has set aside £135m. But at that point, UfI is expected to become
self-financing. It aims to attract mainstream government funding, with funding
bodies setting aside £135m for funding the operation of hubs. The hubs are to
employ support staff and online tutors. The chief executive of UfI is Dr Anne
Wright.

ICT
Learning Centres/UK Online

On
September 11 last year, the Government announced UK Online, a programme that
aims to bring more computers to schools and to put government services online.
UK Online subsumes the ICT Learning Centres programme from the March 1999
Budget. There are to be 6,000 learning centres in community centres and
shopping malls across Britain with funding of £252m with a particular focus on
basic skills. The 6,000 centres also include the 1,000 UfI/Learndirect centres
as UfI/Learndirect is also officially part of UK Online programme. But the
Government has expressed an intention for “the majority” of UK Online centres
to also have Learndirect learning materials. This suggests at least 3,000 UK
Online centres will be UfI/Learndirect centres as well.

Individual
Learning Accounts

ILAs
went national in September 2000 and so far 683,016 people have opened accounts.
The Government hopes one million will be open by 2002.

An
ILA is effectively an “account” with the Government enabling people to take up
discounts and benefits. But it also provides a mechanism to make it easier for
employers to support employees’ individual development aspirations by
contributing tax-free to their accounts. The policy intention is to encourage
people to take more responsibility for their own learning and to invest more of
their own money in it over time.

ILAs
operate by the Government giving £150 to the first one million people to open
an account for each person to spend on an adult education or training course –
providing they provide £25 of their own money to contribute to the account.
Discounts of up to 80 per cent are available for specific learning such as
computer literacy; and 20 per cent off other types of learning, available in
second and subsequent years for those who receive the £150 (this will be capped
at £500 expenditure a year – that is the maximum discount a person can claim is
£100). People can have access to the discounts each year they carry on
learning. The ILA card will entitle people to an annual statement or “learning
record”, which the Government hopes employers will recognise as a type of
qualification. Learners will be able to use ILAs at Learndirect centres and ICT
Learning Centres.

The
course chosen by a learner must be approved by the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority, which learners can check with the ILA Centre, run by the
Capita Group in the £50m contract.

Bluffers
guide to skills schemes

The
Adult and Community Learning Fund
Fund for the Government to invest in grassroots, community-based
activities. Grants run to March 2002. The fund is managed by the Basic Skills
Agency and the National Institute for Adults in Continuing Education. Since
August 1998, 280 organisations have received commitments, supporting about
110,000 learners.

Basic
Skills Unit
Headed by Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the Basic Skills Agency and head of
the Basic Skills Working Group. Body advises the Government on improving basic
skills.

Education
Maintenance Allowances
Weekly allowance paid to 16-to-18-year-olds to increase attendance in
further education. Payment linked to a learning agreement – 97 per cent of EMA
recipients remain in education in pilot areas.

Family
Learning, Literacy and Numeracy
Supported by Standards Fund, helped fund 500 LEA courses and 52 workshops.
Aimed at parents of 3-to-5-year-olds with low basic skills.

Investors
in People
Developed in 1990, now the DfEE’s flagship programme for developing
workforce skills. A third of employees have it or are working towards it. New
version launched last year.

Learning
Gateway
Introduced in September 1999, this is targeted at vulnerable 16- and
17-year-olds.

Learning
and Work Bank
A jobs bank, with details of Employment Service and other job vacancies and
a people bank, where CVs and jobs sought by individuals could be searched by
employers and also a careers bank, containing information and advice on career
choices, a directory of work-related training opportunities. Launched in autumn
2000.

Lifelong
Learning Development Plans
All 150 local authorities produce these setting out how to widen
participation, drive up quality and work with providers

National
Learning Targets
The aim is, by 2002, 50 per cent of adults to have a Level III
qualification; 28 per cent of adults to have level IV; 7 per cent reduction in
non-learners. Forty-five per cent of organisations with more than 50 employees
and 10,000 small organisations with 50-plus employees should be recognised as
having achieved the IIP Standard.

National
Training Organisations
Employer-led bodies which are responsible for the development of skills to
meet the business needs of employers. Launched in May 1998 NTOs bring together
in a single network over 180 Industry Training Organisations, Lead Bodies and
Occupations Standards Councils. There are 73 National Training, covering 93 per
cent of the workforce. Recently received at £45 million cash boost from DfEE.

New
Start
Aimed at 14- to-17-year-olds who have dropped out of learning. New start
partnerships aim to address causes of dissatisfaction

People
Skills Scoreboard
Aims to help companies benchmark training activity and vocational
qualifications.

Progress
File: Achievement Planner
Materials aimed at equipping young people with knowledge to make effective
transitions, increase individual motivation and confidence, stimulate learning
and assist people in how to present attributes. Launched in 1998 and currently
being evaluated.

Regional
Development Agency Skills Development Fund
Through Skills Development Fund, DfEE supports action to help the RDA raise
regional skills base. Also a Rapid Response Fund enables RDA to respond to
large-scale redundancies – 120 projects supported.

Skills
Task Force
Chaired by Chris Humphries, director general of the British Chambers of
Commerce and former chief executive of the TEC National Council, comprises 22
members drawn from industry and training communities. Advises Secretary of
State of Skills and labour market issues. Has now finished its series of
reports.

Small
Business Service
Comes under the DTI and takes over the running of business support services
this month. The chief executive is David Irwin, former CEO of Project North
East. SBS oversees and partly funds Business Links. There are to be 45 SBS
offices. SBS services will be delivered under Business Link name.

Training
Standards Council
Training Standards Network (run by TEC National Council) Skills and
Enterprise Network. This seeks to improve the working and education and
training market by disseminating important labour market and other relevant
information to key players. Has 20,000 members on its database.

Vocational
Qualifications
Foundation Degrees now being developed. Includes GNVQs which aim to bridge
academic-vocational divide and develop knowledge, skills and understanding for
employability. Revised GNVQ to be introduced from last year at Foundation,
Intermediate and Advanced Levels.

Key
Skills
Key skills qualification launched in September 2000. Managed by two
agencies: Further Education Development Agency (schools and colleges) and
Learning for Work for work-based route.

Modern
Apprenticeships
These are now called Advanced Modern Apprenticeships. Lead to NVQ Level III
and last at least two years.

National
Traineeships
Introduced in September 1997. Renamed in February 2000 as Foundation Modern
Apprenticeships. Aims to get young people to NVQ level II. Courses designed by
NTOs (see above) and entitle people to paid time off during working hours to
study.

National
Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)
Introduced in 1991. Five levels from foundation skills in occupations to
chartered, professional and senior management occupations.

Vocational
A-levels
Equivalent academic A-levels

The
Youth Card
Smart card aimed at helping young people make a considered choice of
post-16 options, give lifestyle discounts and can also be used to track
attendance in learning.

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