It is interesting to see the interim report of the Labour Party’s new lifelong learning commission. The commission is working to develop policy proposals for the lifelong learning system. It places this within the framework of Labour’s planned ‘National Education Service’ which at present is more of a slogan than a policy, but will hopefully be developed over the next few weeks and months into something more concrete.
The Commission’s report begins by locating the rationale for lifelong learning variously in social justice, wellbeing, the need for skills, the threat of the fourth industrial revolution and of course Brexit. A lot of this is the sort of thing that we’ve seen in previous policy documents, but there is also some more radical stuff which makes the case for education having a value in its own terms and not just as an engine of economic development and some gestures towards democratising the education system.
In another radical (for which read ambitious) move, the Commission resists the temptation to view ‘lifelong learning’ as an agenda for the low skilled, as the previous Labour Government tended to, and seeks to situate lifelong learning as something with universal relevance. This creates a need to join up lots of fragments as the new system is imagined.
The Commission is also keen to locate its commitment to lifelong learning in the history of the labour movement. This is both in terms of the historic relationship between political action and education (e.g. through Ruskin) and through the policies of successive labour governments.
The report sets out some useful thoughts on what is wrong with the current lifelong learning sector. These broadly boil down to:
- It is too fragmented and isn’t really functioning as a system, but rather as a series of distinct activities each targeted towards difference objectives. This is exacerbated by regional inequalities in skills and provision which in turn is made worse by confusing local government structures and a lack of strategic accountability for skills and lifelong learning.
- It is poorly funded and the cost of the system has been increasingly shifted to the individual, neglecting the social rationales for funding an education system.
- Participation in adult education (including workplace training) has been falling. This is further complicated by the attempt to use the apprenticeship system as a one-size fits all solution to all skills and lifelong learning issues.
So what will the Commission do next?
To address these issues the Commission has formed four workstreams focusing on people, providers, employers and policy and funding. These will develop more detailed proposals.
At the moment the proposals of the Commission are very embryonic. There are lots of good ideas and so it will be worth watching closely. Perhaps of most interest to readers of this blog is the promised to examine how lifelong learning can be underpinned ‘with a comprehensive system of information, advice and guidance’.
The Labour Party are thinking and saying a lot of the right sorts of things about the lifelong learning system, but at present they are a bit short on detail. Hopefully more details will emerge quickly as we may be facing an election very soon!