The Advisory Group
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment established the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning in June, 1997. He asked it, as its first task, to advise on the preparation of a White Paper on Lifelong Learning. This report is that advice. It aims to make the case for the development of a culture of lifelong learning for all, throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. We outline what will be needed to achieve that goal, always recognising that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also wish to establish their own perspectives. The terms of reference and membership of the group and details of its task groups are set out at Appendix A.
Government has already announced four major initiatives, which will affect lifelong learning. We welcome the New Deal, the University for Industry, the creation of Individual Learning Accounts and the proposals for the National Grid for Learning. We offer some advice on their implementation. We welcome too the new Government's early decisions to find additional funding for schools, colleges and universities and the Prime Minister's announcement of an additional half million students in further and higher education by 2002.
We believe that proposals for lifelong learning must link closely with, and embrace, the new approach to schools, set out in the Government's White Paper, Excellence in Schools. We welcome the extensive reviews of further and higher education recently completed by Helena Kennedy and Sir Ron Dearing, which provide valuable policy steers for the development of lifelong learning, and on which we have drawn.
We have taken seriously those who call for a 'cultural revolution' in this country, to turn the vision of a learning society into reality. As the co-ordinator of the Economic and Social Research Council's Learning Society Initiative has recently observed, "the UK is not at present a learning society, nor does it have a culture of lifelong learning or even a training culture". For its part, the CBI has declared that the "UK's progress in education and training is still inadequate" for the scale of the competitive challenges the country now faces.
Learning for all?
That is not to say that no progress has been made. On the contrary, there are many successful and imaginative elements of lifelong learning already occurring in this country, but they do not yet add up to a genuine learning culture for all.
Only one adult in four describes him or herself as a current learner, and one in three has taken no part in education or training since leaving school. The Labour Force Survey regularly finds only 14% of all employees taking part in job-related training, and while the National Advisory Council for Education and Training reports real progress in recent years, one third of all employees say that their employer has never offered them any kind of training.
Only 5% of the workforce so far have obtained an NVQ and two thirds of organisations employing 50 or more people have not yet even made a commitment to try to achieve the Investors in People standard. Over 40% of 18 year olds are not currently in any kind of training or education. (NACETT, 1997).
This is not what we would find if we were already genuinely a learning society. Radical changes will be necessary if we are to construct a culture of lifelong learning for all. For those learners and professionals already involved, there is little need to elaborate the arguments, although we believe that existing visions have themselves been flawed and plans so far to implement them have been inadequate.
Many people never get beyond the earnest, yet banal, view that education is generally a 'good thing' or the assertion that there is a simple and self-evident direct link between educational attainment and prosperity, if only everyone would just put their mind to it. This is a welcome beginning, but we need more than assertions.
Scale of the task
The scale of the task the Government has set can scarcely be exaggerated. For most people, and for many organisations (including some directly concerned with education), the case for a major cultural shift still needs to be spelled out. We need a widespread understanding of the challenges the people of this country now face and genuine commitment to a new vision of lifelong learning to meet them. But we also need action, a start has to be made to deliver the vision in practice, at all levels and in ways which people notice and appreciate. To start the process, the White Paper should set out a radical programme of reforms, to carry the Government through at least one term of office, and beyond.
Structure of the report
Our report is divided into five parts. In Part One, we set out in summary form a proposed programme of initiatives aimed at starting the process of establishing a culture of lifelong learning for all. Part Two makes the case for such a culture and some of the main obstacles currently preventing its establishment. In Part Three, we provide a vision of what such a culture would be like. We suggest that strategy, policy and practice should all accord with a number of core principles derived from, and underpinning, that vision. We argue that new initiatives should also recognise and build on achievements to date. In Part Four, we outline the roles and responsibilities of the key partners, and the sorts of changes required if the vision is to become a reality. Part Five suggests the first steps necessary to begin to implement change.
We make recommendations and proposals throughout the report, with the majority of them in Part Four. The key recommendations are brought together in the programme summarised in Part One.
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