Profession welcomes blair’s skills boost

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s restructuring of the former Department for
Education and Employment into separate departments for Work and Pensions and
for Education and Skills (DfES) has given new prominence to skills.

While the top-line decision is thought to have been the creation of a
department for Work and Pensions to bring together policies for the unemployed
and social security, the consequential rebadging of the remainder of the DfEE’s
remit seems eminently sensible. It should ensure a life cycle from early years
up to university and lifelong learning with a focus on opportunity and skills.

LSC chief executive John Harwood welcomed the creation of the DfES. "We
applaud the Government’s new emphasis on raising skills for all and believe the
departmental changes are a positive step in focusing attention on the education
and skills needs of the country," he said.

"We look forward to working with the new ministerial teams and
delivering real results on the shared aims of Government and the Learning and
Skills Council."

Policy specialist at the Industrial Society Andy Westwood sees the DfES role
as focused on demand and delivery, rather than supply. "It boils down to
delivering higher standards across the board – in terms of physical and human
resources put into schools, colleges and universities and people’s level of
participation and personal achievement," he said.

"The DfES needs to improve qualifications by rethinking what
qualifications are offered, how they’re accessed and how they’re awarded,
within that cradle-to-grave system, to deliver a skilled workforce."

For the NTO network the move provides an opportunity to put sector skills
centre stage. The appointment of John Healy as junior minister with responsibility
for adult skills and workforce development, answering to Secretary of State
Estelle Morris, is good news, according to Tom Bewick, policy director at the
NTO National Council. "I’m very encouraged by the new secretary of state’s
words that her department is not going to be a schools department, and with
John Healy as minister, there’s no doubt the department will focus on the
skills agenda."

Bewick would like to see Healy concentrate on three priorities:

– Rationalising the plethora of lifelong learning initiatives that have
grown up recently and "articulating a bolder and more coherent vision for
lifelong learning"

– Taking the adult basic skills challenge to the next stage. Good progress
has been made through the Union Learning Fund, but government needs to look to
other intermediaries, Bewick believes, since those needing help with basic
skills are usually a hard-to-reach, non-homogeneous group

– Promoting learning. "There is the whole issue of employers who don’t
train, employees who won’t train and institutions that say they can’t train.
There’s a real challenge to stimulate demand for learning," says Bewick.
"If Mr Healy makes some progress in those three areas over the next two
years we’ll have moved considerably from where we are now," he concludes.

By Elaine Essery

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