We’ve all had that telephone conversation where you get so carried away by the brilliance of your own conversation, you fail to notice that the other person has been disconnected. Well, I have anyway: but I do notice – eventually.
I started having a conversation with Vince Cable a couple of weeks ago. Not personally, you understand, but with the consultation into Adult Vocational Education that his department released on 24 March. Coming on the back of an apparent 24% cut in adult funding next year, I thought the timing of the consultation was ‘interesting’. And then we were cut off by something called Purdah. He’s having an election apparently.
So what was Vince saying about learning and skills? Well, he was reminding us of where we’ve come from, starting with Rigour and Responsiveness. He revisited the ‘two way street’ of the CAVTL, the increasing influence and engagement of employers, including Trailblazer Apprenticeships; English and maths featured, naturally; Learning Technology, too; and there was the shift of focus from qualification success alone, towards the outcomes of progression and positive destinations.
He also articulated very clearly the confusion that sits at the heart of the FE sector: in the midst of our “bewildering array” of provision we have a dual mandate, two drivers of inclusion and excellence that render our potential users and stakeholders unclear as to what it is that we are. What we do is provide second chances for those who have not succeeded in the school system; and we provide vocational education, higher level professional and technical skills, for the workplace.
The consultation outlines a vision of what is expected from these two parallel roles and then poses questions as to how that vision will be realised. And there are some good questions too. How, and in what sectors, should National Colleges develop to become hubs of best practice? Where should the awarding powers for Higher Vocational Education lie, and are the current FDAP processes too ‘academic’-biased? How could local partnership working and local commissioning of the Adult Skills Budget develop (if indeed there will be any budget left to develop)?
Tristram Hunt has already promised there would be an Education Bill in the first hundred days of a new Labour administration. Vince Cable’s consultation will close on 16 June, just a few weeks into the new government’s term of office. It does feel strange starting to answer his questions when no one can know what combination of people will be there to hear the answers, or even if they will still feel that these were the right questions to answer.
What we do know is that there are over 8million adults in England without the expected numeracy skills of an eleven-year-old and that there will be acute shortages of skilled workers in some key sectors over the next ten years. There will be an estimated 3.6million new and replacement technician and associate professional level roles to fill in the UK by 2022.
If elections are won or lost on the economy, then the next election in 2020 may well be won or lost on the learning and skills decisions that are made at this one. So consult, and be consulted with, and vote carefully.