LSC chief calls for confidence in training policy

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John Harwood, the Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Council said today that for the sector to achieve the step change in participation levels it must create the confidence for that investment to take place.

Mr Harwood said that raising participation of 16 – 18 years olds to over 90% was the vision of the LSC for 2010. He explained that the annual cost for this level of participation and the associated consequences would need an additional investment of £2 billion at today’s prices in 2010.

Mr Harwood said: "One of the grave anxieties we have about the level of education and skills in our workforce is the low attainment at levels two and three. This makes us less competitive compared with other developed countries. There are a number of reasons for this; one is the way we accredit qualifications. A change I would like to see in the next five or ten years is what we accredit, how we go about accreditation and how individuals achieve qualifications.

"The other area where we fail is in equipping many more of our adults with the basic numeracy and literacy skills to be effective citizens in a modern society and a modern economy. International performance comparisons in the participation of our sixteen to eighteen year olds in education are not very good. We are near the bottom, separated only by Italy Greece Mexico and Turkey.

"The LSC’s ambition is to raise participation and attainment trough high quality education and training... There’s a bill attached to achieving this. We need about 300,000 extra places per year from our current level to 2010. That requires, a today’s prices, about £1 billion.

"We need to add to that if we are to achieve our overall ambition other calculations. The first is foundation costs, that is the cost of the system at the moment. I am deeply worried that we are not actually paying an economic price for the service, for the learning which takes place at the moment. A key objective as far as I am concerned is to make sure we are able to achieve convergence, to increase the level of funding in further education and work based learning to the level that takes place in schools and to be able to provide an effective pay rate for the people who work in the sector and the facilities and processes those people need.

"The second foundation cost is premium for higher participation. The greater the achievement in participation, the higher the premium. The extra 1% always costs more than the previous one.

"The third foundation cost is capital. This amount of additional places can’t be squashed into the existing infrastructure. We need to provide the capital base, the facilities and the premises for participation at this rate. We need to something about the level of investment in the structure at the moment.

"By pushing for greater participation at 16 – 18 there will also be a consequence in the demand for adult participation and we will need to add further investment for that. Let us say that that doubles to first figure £1 billion, to £2 billion, is this absolutely unachievable?

"I don’t believe it is unachievable because the Government’s policy is to push the proportion of GDP going into education from 5.2% to 6% at some point in the next decade. Achieving 6% would yield some £8 billion extra for education. I don’t believe that these sorts of figures over a ten year time frame are figures that we should not be thinking about.

"On culture, we do need to achieve what most other countries seem to achieve which is a parity of esteem between vocational learning and academic learning underpinned by accreditation, a qualification system, which offers parity of esteem.

"In setting out that the amount we need to spend should go up by £2billion, we have to make sure we have the confidence about the use we can make of that money."

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