Lessons in learning

The Government aims to create a learning society. But many training and
development experts complain of “initiatives”, and even a lack of joined-up
government

At a conference in February, GMB leader John Edmonds attacked the Government’s
approach to training as “a handful of measures no one has ever heard of”.
Employers may have regarded his speech as an act of wilful oppositionism –
everyone has heard of Investors in People, Modern Apprenticeships, the
University for Industry, after all, and the Government never stops chuntering
about “the learning society”.

If you look a little deeper, you have to admit Edmonds might have a point.

Who, outside the Department for Education and Employment, could successfully
map out the definitions, roles and connections of Learning and Skills Councils,
Learning Partnerships, the Learning and Work Bank, National Grid for Learning,
National Learning Targets, Lifelong Learning Development Funds and the Adult
and Community Learning Fund? The DfEE does not even possess a list of all its
current initiatives.

Much of all this connects with policies only tangentially relevant to
personnel professionals, such as the social exclusion agenda. But the issue
becomes more serious for the Government because it is expecting employers to
take an active role in delivering many of its initiatives. Any employer keen to
tackle social exclusion can pick from Learning and Skills Councils, the
"hubs" associated with the University for Industry, Learning
Partnerships, as well as the better known Modern Apprenticeships, Investors in
People or, for that matter, the New Deal.

Some of these programmes have not been launched formally, and depend upon
the unhindered passing of the Learning and Skills Bill (Second Reading this
month) but already a sense of confusion has spread through the training and
development community. Many in the soon-to-be-defunct Tec movement will not
speak out publicly for fear of affecting the welter of contracts they are
involved in. But one Tec director described the DfEE as suffering from
"initiativitis".

"There are so many tremendous initiatives, but little thought as to how
to deliver them. I think there is a tendency to throw the baby out with the
bath water all the time.

"Trying to find your way through support services is an absolute
nightmare. The money wasted on rebranding and starting again on all these
different services is a scandal. It’s permanent revolution, never looking to
see what works first," the Tec director says.

The Government’s White Paper Learning to Succeed, which underpins many of
the initiatives, complains of the tangle of bodies and institutional fiefdoms
in post-16 learning and calls for a clarification of boundaries.

Existing provision in post-16 facilities is an undoubted minefield. Take
Humberside. There is the Education Business Partnership, the Careers Service,
the North Lincolnshire Careers Association, the North Lincolnshire Area Forum,
the Humberside Training and Enterprise Council, Youth Service, the Humberside
Partnership and the North Lincolnshire Strategic Lifelong Learning Partnership
and sundry assorted voluntary sectors organisations. What do they all do? It’s
a question many of the bodies themselves cannot answer.

But there is a real danger New Labour will simply replace this confusion and
profusion with another jungle of institutions. For an administration which has
a near fetishistic obsession with "joined-up government", there is
much in these programmes that could give critics ammunition. For example, to a
non-specialist, the 1,000 local Learning Centres envisaged under the University
for Industry seem to be very close to the purpose of the 700 Learning Centres
of the Information and Communication Technologies programme. Why not put them
together with the Learning and Work Bank, being run in association with the
Employment Service’s ES Direct, and have one network of one-stop shops?

The employer-led Learning and Skills Councils seem to have a very similar
official remit to the local Lifelong Learning Partnerships.

Similarly, a search on the National Grid for Learning web site for links to
Individual Learning Accounts and Investors in People through the site’s Learning
Resource Index yielded two "no resources matched your inquiry"
messages.

Roger Opie, director of education at the Industrial Society, complains of
"a waste of resources and a waste of money" in some schemes. "It
does seem to be disjointed with the risk of duplication in services. But the
main problem is access. Learning, development, education and training is aimed
at the top 40 per cent in this country, when it is the bottom 60 per cent who
need it," he says.

But Mary Lord, director of training and education for the Tec National
Council, says, "There is an enormous amount of change in the wind. It is a
very different job communicating to those outside, and it will be done in time.
It will be clearer in a year or two how the bodies will work together. They
need time to bed in."

Margaret Murray, head of the CBI’s learning and skills group, says while
businesses have helped make schemes such as Investors in People a success, they
are not there to deliver government programmes. "I do think some are
asking, ‘How does all this fit together?’. If they perceive it is too much,
they will not deliver. On the whole they are not well informed about training
schemes, but then why would they be?"

Even some specialists are struggling. Roy Harrison, IPD adviser for training
and development, concedes, "It is something of an art to keep up."

But he is more worried by the contradictions he says are creeping into
policy-making. "The Government is very keen to promote lifelong learning,
but because of the changes to funding, the number of mature students is
actually falling. I think there is a lack of joined-up government."

Here, Personnel Today, provides a comprehensive guide to the Government’s
learning initiatives. The more important programmes come first.

University for Industry (UfI)

The main stated aim of the UfI is drive up the demand for learning. It is
believed that 7 million adults have never done any before. UfI hopes by 2002,
2.5 million people a year will be taking its courses, which will run under the
brand learndirect.

The UfI will launch formally this autumn, by which time the Government
promises anyone will be able to log on to a web site and learn. For the
millions who cannot access the Internet at home or work, 1,000 learning centres
will be opened (there are already 77 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland;
there is a different system in Scotland). These should be largely
community-based and may be set up in libraries or shopping centres – although
the centre on Merseyside is based in St Helen’s Rugby League club.

UfI is designed to teach basic skills and will be delivered in
"bite-sized chunks" to enable people to learn at their convenience –
20 minutes is the shortest course. Packages will be delivered by ICT and the
Internet.

It has yet to be decided how many of the courses will be charged for and
which will be free. (All IT courses will probably be heavily discounted).

Different arrangements will exist in different centres – some may favour an
"Internet cafe" system of charging per hour of use.

Similarly, there is much behind-the-scenes discussion about how UfI will
mesh with the many other learning initiatives.

Will people be able to use their Individual Learning Accounts in UfI
learning centres? No one knows yet. Will they be able to do NVQs? Ditto.

UfI is busy commissioning learning materials. The 1,000 learning centres are
to be administered through around 100 "hubs", each with about 10
learning centres to oversee. The hubs are basically local consortia and are
self-selecting – they might be local colleges, Tecs, community centres, local
projects, supermarkets, or local employers. The hubs will accredit local
learning centres with the learndirect brand.

Just to confuse matters, the hubs will be divided into three different
types. Most will be regionally based, but some will be sector-based like the
automotive sector hub. And there will be corporate hubs. At the end of
February, BT announced it is to give all its employees access to learndirect
materials alongside BT learning materials via the BT Learning Academy. Staff
will be able to learn through their desktops at their own time. BT is the first
corporate hub.

The Government has pledged £44m to get learndirect up and running. But at
that point UfI, under the chairmanship of Lord Dearing, is expected to become
self-financing. It aims to attract funding through bodies such as the Further
Education Funding Council and the Higher Education Funding Council and,
inevitably, from Europe.

Many of the learning centres will not be new. Different types of local amenity
already exist under a wide variety of initiatives – some community-based, some
Government-inspired. The hubs will decide whether to certify the centres
formally under the UfI brand.

UfI also took over the Government’s Learning Direct helpline, launched in
April 1999. By February this year, 1 million people had called.

Individual Learning Accounts

ILAs, a manifesto commitment, will go national from April 2000 and be run by
47 new Learning and Skills Councils, which will supersede the 72 Tecs in April
2001.

The Government has pledged £150m towards the first 1 million accounts and is
encouraging Tecs to dip into their reserves to find more cash. A dozen pilot
projects have been arranged involving 30 Tecs.

ILAs are based on two key (and, some might say, controversial) principles –
that individuals are best placed to know their learning needs and that responsibility
for investing in learning needs to be shared.

ILAs entitle people to a 20 per cent reduction (80 per cent for IT courses)
in training fees up to £500. The Government will put £150 into every account
provided the individuals put £25 in themselves.

ILAs will initially be aimed at people in work and wanting to learn or
people with particular learning or skill needs, such as returners. The
Government hopes ILAs will eventually be available at High Street banks and
building societies and even supermarkets.

The plan is that ILAs will add value to existing employer investment which
now stands at over £10bn a year.

The accounts are also designed to help small businesses catch up on training
investment with larger firms. According to a DfEE report last May, 21 per cent
of learners identified cost as an obstacle.

Learning and Skills Council

This national body will look after the 47 locally-based Learning and Skills
Councils from April 2001. The LSC will have a budget of £6bn, compared to the
£1bn spent by Tecs, which the LSC will supersede.

Tec responsibilities are to be split between LSCs and the new Small Business
Service. Employers will have the largest single input in the LSCs.

The plan is for work-based learning for the unemployed to be transferred to
the Employment Service – as in the New Deal for the under 25s. The idea of the
LSC from the Learning to Succeed White Paper, springs from concern that
provision in 16-plus education is poor in many areas – too little clarity,
co-ordination and coherence, too much duplication and too many layers of
contracting and funding.

LSC aims at a tri-partite responsibility between learners, government and
employers. The council is to be responsible for the learning provided to over 5
million students and will bring together the roles of the Tecs and the Further
Education Funding Council in funding and contracting for training. The council
will have separate committees focussing on 16- to 19-year-olds and adult
learners.

The LSC will also take over responsibility for advising on National Learning
Targets from the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets
(NACETT). It will fund modern apprenticeships and national traineeships. The
new arrangements should save £50m by avoiding duplication.

The LSC is the body at the centre of the Government’s plans for lifelong
learning for those with jobs. But some experts say the Government’s idea of
separating training for the in-work from training for the out-of-work, the
preserve of the Employment Service, may cause problems.

The IPD’s Harrison says, "I can see it is institutionally convenient,
but the distinctions between the employed, self-employed, unemployed and so on
are really very flexible in the modern labour market. It may mean training for
the unemployed becomes ghettoised."

Lord argues one of the new body’s main tasks will be to encourage employers
to play a leading role. "The Government needs to help build employer
capacity so they see what skills training can do for them. A solid relationship
with employers will be one of the real challenges."

Investors in People

The Government regards IIP as being one of the main planks in its learning
strategy – an excellent business tool for getting employers engaged in
learning.

IIP, as virtually everybody in personnel will know, is the national standard
for "effective investment in people to achieve business goals". In
essence, it emphasises the importance of having business goals and enables
organisations to measure the contribution of people in getting there. It has
been highly successful: 35 per cent of the workforce is engaged in the process
of getting IIP. By the end of 1999, 16,454 organisations had the standard and
another 21,500 were working towards it.

It takes them between six months and two years to complete it. They are
assessed against specific criteria by a team of official assessors. LSCs are
likely to take over recognition when Tecs disappear.

National Grid for Learning

The NGfL is the product of the 1997 report Connecting the Learning Society
and is essentially a means of harnessing the power of the Internet to spread
the idea of learning across different sections of government and community
activity.

Launched by Tony Blair in November 1998, the NGfL now has 5,000 pages of
hosted content and 250,000 pages of indexed content. Organisations and
businesses can post content on to it provided they register and comply with a
code of practice aiming to ensure high standards.

Within the NGfL site are resources aimed at schools, further education,
higher education, Lifelong Learning and the UfI, career development, libraries,
museums and galleries, community grids, Internet networks and government
agencies.

ICT Learning Centres

Under this programme £252m is available to set up to tackle the
"information rich/information poor" divide. It springs from concern
that technological exclusion may follow on from – and exacerbate – social
exclusion. The programme will target the 2,000 most deprived wards according to
the Department of the Environment, Transport and Region’s deprivation index. A
total of 700 centres are to be set up by September 2001.

So, to the obvious question – are they the same as the 1,000 UfI
learningdirect centres? No. But some of these centres will also be UfI centres.

More confusingly still, learndirect centres can bid for the same funding as
these ICT learning centres.

Connexions

Unlike most of the initiatives detailed here, Connexions hails from the
Social Exclusion Unit based in Downing Street, although it will be run by the
DfEE. Nominally, it is aimed at everyone between the ages of 13 and 19, hoping
to bring a more coherent framework to the mass of agencies that deal with young
people at present. But its main focus is to be on those who fall into crime or
leave school without any qualifications.

At present, one-third of all young people drop out or fail to achieve
anything in full-time education at an estimated cost to society of £350m. The
Government aims to reduce the number of young people not in education, training
or work below the current 9 per cent.

The main deliverers of Connexions will be an army of up to 20,000 personal
advisers. The personal adviser will be the key point of contact with all
government agencies and be based in schools, youth offending services, careers
services and so on. They will be part-mentor, part adviser with four specific
goals: increase participation in learning up to the age of 19; help improve
learning achievement at all levels of ability; prevent the onset of
disaffection and promote social inclusion; provide practical support to
overcome personal, family or social obstacles.

From this month, 15 local "pathfinder" projects are being set up,
which will pilot different aspects of the service. Five have been announced so
far. The Government hopes the service will be running nationally from April
2001.

Lifelong Learning Partnerships

Learning partnerships are made up of local employers, further education
colleges, careers service companies, Tecs, local authorities, schools and a
wide range of other local organisations.

According to the DfEE, they are aimed at "widening participation in
learning, increasing attainment, improving standards, meeting the skills
challenge, creating a more coherent, effective and accessible set of local
arrangements for lifelong learning, giving careers advice and guidance, but
also linking with the social inclusion agenda". Phew.

What does all that mean? Many informed observers reckon not a lot. The
partnerships were announced before the Learning and Skills Councils and have
been overtaken by events. "They have a little while to prove themselves,
but are expected to wither away," says Alastair Thomson, policy and
development officer for the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education.
That said, the DfEE is funding the partnerships with £20m over the next two
years and encouraging them to draw up local learning plans and targets.

But the Government also hopes the partnerships will advise the new Learning
and Skills Councils. The Lifelong Learning Partnerships network, which has 110
members, is complete in all regions except London.

Vocational Qualifications

Last year, Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the Basic Skills Agency and head of
the Basic Skills Working Group, delivered his report called A Fresh Start. This
highlighted the fact that one in five British people are not functionally
literate, meaning they are not able to locate a plumber in the yellow pages.
One in four of us cannot calculate the change from £2. What’s worse, we are
lagging behind our rivals: 23 per cent of the British have low literacy
compared with 12 per cent in Germany and 17 per cent in Canada.

The report recommended the Government try to halve the number of illiterate
adults by 2010 and advised ministers to think in terms of "a ladder of
learning" to help achieve this. Roger Opie, director of Education at the
Industrial Society says, "Many of these schemes are very sound, but my
concern is the guidance given to young people to steer them through. I think
the quality of advice is very patchy."

National Vocational Qualifications

NVQs have been running for nine years now and are the basic standard of vocational
qualification.

There are five levels, which equate to levels of responsibility in the real
world. Level 1 relates to foundation skills in occupations; level 2 relates to
operative or semi-skilled occupations; level 3 is technician, craft, skilled
and supervisory occupations; level 4 is about technical and junior management
occupations and level 5 is about chartered, professional and senior management
occupations.

National Traineeships

National Traineeships were introduced in September 1997, but in February
this year David Blunkett renamed them Foundation Modern Apprenticeships (FMAs).
These are supposed to be a high-quality replacement for the widely-sneered at
Youth Training. They aim to get young people to NVQ level 2, the vocational
equivalent of five GCSEs.

The Government is hoping 100,000 young people will embark on them this year
– there are as many as 100,000 16- and 17-year-olds in work, but without
qualifications and not working towards them.

The Government and employers regard level 2 as the minimum standard
necessary for a person to hold a job. All apprenticeships are based on a
partnership of employers via National Training Organisations, Tecs and the
Government. They form a key part of the Investing in Young People strategy.

The courses are designed by industry through NTOs and available across 47
industrial sectors including engineering, business administration, IT and
Retail.

The scheme entitles employees aged 16 and 17 who have left school and
college to paid time off during normal working hours to study or train. Those
who cannot start mainstream learning take part in a Learning Gateway.
Introduced in September, this targets "disengaged 16/17-year-olds".

Modern Apprenticeships

Modern Apprenticeships are now called Advanced Modern Apprenticeships. Last
January, Blunkett announced that 225,000 young people have completed Modern
Apprenticeships. A further 126,000 are undertaking them in 80 different
industrial sectors and 82,000 places are available this year.

All Modern Apprenticeships lead to NVQ level 3 or above, underpinned by
training in key skills such as information technology and basic communication.
They are available to 16- and 17-year-old school leavers – or other young
people over 18 at the discretion of the local Tec.

Apprentices are given employee status and paid wages as soon as possible. A
minimum period of two years was laid down in February for the completion of NVQ
level 3, and apprentices spend at least one day a week spent learning.

Rather confusingly Advanced Modern Apprenticeships are also known as Modern
Advanced Apprenticeships.

GNVQs

GNVQs bridge the gap between the academic GCSE/GCE qualifications and the
job specific NVQ system. They are mainly, but not solely, undertaken by 16- to
19-year-olds in full-time education. They are designed to develop knowledge,
skills and understanding in broad vocational areas.

Part One GNVQs can be taken when 14- to 16-year-olds sit their GCSEs and can
be mixed and matched with other qualifications. These last for two years.

Foundation GNVQs are broadly equivalent to four GCSEs at grades D-G, or NVQ
level 1. Intermediate GNVQs are broadly equivalent to four GCSEs at grades A-C,
or an NVQ level 2. They are graded pass, merit and distinction and tested by
continuous assessment and end-of-unit external tests. GNVQs are available in
seven subjects, but more are on the way.

Advanced GNVQs

In February Blunkett changed the name of these to vocational A-levels.

Foundation Degrees

The Government announced the introduction of foundation degrees in February.
At the moment, more than one in three students who gain two or more A-levels or
the vocational equivalent do not go directly into higher education.

Foundation degrees will last for two years – "an accessible and
flexible building block for lifelong learning and future career success".
The Government is now consulting on the initiative.

More change is set to follow. The Education Secretary is examining ideas for
guaranteeing apprenticeship opportunities for 16- to 18-year-olds, independent
monitoring and support, financial incentives for employers; awards for
trainees; and finally the licensing of employers who want to engage Modern
Advanced Apprentices. Watch this space.

Learning and Work Bank

This was announced by David Blunkett on 7 March. The idea is that the bank
will be a government-run recruitment web site including vacancies from all over
the country from job centres, private recruitment agencies and newspapers. It
promises to be the "most comprehensive dot.com jobs, skills and careers
service".

A total of £68m is coming from the Government, together with investment from
EDS to set up the call centres and kiosks.

Job seekers will be able to follow up vacancies they are interested in by
ringing ES Direct. The site will link to the ES Job Bank and contain
information about courses, or skills improvement, careers pages, and hyperlinks
to other web sites. Around £1.7bn is being invested in new technologies and
learning.

Adult and Community Learning Fund

As recommended by the Learning Age Green Paper, this has been set up with
£15m of government money. It is being run by the Basic Skills Agency and the
National Institute for Adults in Continuing Education. The aim is to provide
financial support for community learning initiatives with a particular emphasis
on basic skills.

National Learning Targets

These replace Education and Training Targets, launched in 1995. There are
detailed requirements across all levels. For instance half of all adults are
hoped to have a level 3 core skills qualification by the end of 2002; 10,000
organisations with up to 49 staff to be recognised for IIP and so on. Currently
targets are set by the National Advisory Council for Education and Training
Targets (NACETT) but this will in future be done by the LSC.

National Skills Task Force

This body, consisting of figures from education and industry, advises the
Government on developing a national skills agenda. So far it has produced two
reports: Towards a National Skills Agenda (September 1998) and Delivering
Skills for All (May 1998). A third report, on workplace skills and learning, is
due out shortly.

Small Business Service (SBS) and Business Links

The SBS will come under the Department for Trade and Industry and take over
business support services from the Tecs in April 2001 when it formally comes to
life.

Currently small business services are delivered through the Business Link
system, which dates back to Michael Heseltine’s days at the DTI.

There are 81 Business Link offices. Their official brief is threefold: to
increase business use of support services, to rationalise existing provision
and to improve the quality of the services available.

There are to be 45 SBS offices. However, the Business Link name will still
exist as a brand name under which SBS services will be delivered.

To complicate things further, Business Links is being invited to submit
proposals for the running of SBS services in local regions. If they are not up
to scratch, the services will be open to other bidders.

Lifelong Learning Development Plans

These are what local authorities have to submit to tap into a pool of money
– increased to £18m this year – that the Government reserves centrally for
local lifelong learning programmes, known as the Standards Fund. It has only
been running two years, but when the Learning and Skills Councils come into
existence in April 2001, they will take over funding. Thereafter, local
authorities will submit applications known as Adult and Community Learning
Strategies.

Sure Start

Fifteen Sure Start projects have been announced. This scheme works with
parents and pre-school children in deprived areas to make sure they are ready
to thrive at school.

New Start

New Start was launched in November 1997. There have been two stages: round
one concentrated on 14 to 16 issues, and round two 16 to 17 issues in deprived
areas. Round three this year is looking at "supporting partnerships"
across the whole of England.

Youth Card

This is a smart card issued to 16-year-olds to be used as an electronic key
to personal information, used for enrolment and to validate payments and to
offer a range of discounts. This supersedes the learning card.

Education Business Partnerships

The Tecs were supposed to set these up. They are basically aimed at raising
employability, getting businesses involved with work with schools, work
placement and so on. They are focused heavily on schools, rather than the full
panoply of learning and spend a lot of their time chasing funding, often from
TE. The Government has announced a review of National Education Business
Partnerships.

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