Lifelong Learning and Further Education – steps towards the

Good Society
Proposals from Compass
Introduction
In recent years, England has lost sight of the purposes of education, and its role in creating
the good society. Instead, there has been an unremitting public policy focus on outputs
measured in terms of paper qualifications. The consequences have been a narrowing of
purpose and curriculum, a growing sense of desperation amongst educationalists and
disillusionment for far too many students.
Compass believes that the time has come to redefine the purposes of education and reassert the social value of learning in helping to bring about the three inter-related
educational goals of a good society:
 Economic growth and advancement
 Social inclusion and democratic empowerment
 Personal growth and the increase of autonomy.1
This paper has been written as part of an enquiry into the future of education in England led
by the campaigning group Compass in collaboration with the National Union of Teachers. It
is a summary of a longer report dealing with lifelong learning and further education. It
complements a wider study, ‘The Bloomsbury Paper: the interim report of the inquiry into a
21st century education system’ whose main focus is on schooling. (Downloadable at
http://www.compassonline.org.uk/education-inquiry/interim-report.)
Our approach throughout has been to start with a discussion of purpose and underpinning
values before moving onto the policy and practices that should flow from it. We begin by
recognizing the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of our education system, and attempt
to build on those rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water. A massive
upheaval is the last thing we need after the permanent revolution in education of the last
twenty years. On the other hand, we aim to avoid the haphazard tinkering with one part of
the service or another that has devoured so much energy and left it fragmented and
confusing to both users and practitioners. We believe that by having an agreed purpose and
values it is possible to take steps incrementally and build coherently towards a clear goal.
In this paper we are concerned with the need to develop an over-arching framework for the
education service, cradle to grave, which we refer to as a lifelong learning system. Here we
focus on those aspects of post-school education – further education (FE) as it is most
commonly termed - that we believe can make a significant contribution to building the good
society but which have long been neglected, the victim of meddling and cuts.
Further education is a complex set of institutions, providers and qualifications that has
emerged haphazardly since Victorian times. We use the term to refer to all education and
training after the age of 16 other than higher education - and which is supported from public
funds. It therefore includes work in school 6th forms, work based learning and employer
1

Aspin, Chapman, Evans and Bagnall (eds.) 2012, Second International Handbook of Lifelong
Learning, Springer, London, Part 2, page lv.

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training, as well as adult and community learning (ACL). It also takes account of the growing
number of young people 14+ on courses in FE colleges which supports the case for a 14-19
phase. It caters for the widest range of students of any educational sector: almost one in
two young people depend on it for general and vocational education as well as large
numbers of adults seeking re-skilling, a second chance or simply following their passions. It
addresses both economic and social challenges: it is crucial to the health of our economy
and our society

1. Lifelong learning
Given the permanence of social and economic change, almost nobody can expect to be
qualified for life or to be equipped for changing roles and contexts solely through their
experience of initial education. That is the rationale for lifelong learning – that is, a system
that enables learning through the life course, as well as offering a good initial education,
so that people can re-train, acquire the knowledge and skills that eluded them before they
became adults, enjoy a second chance, learn English as a second language, learn parenting
skills, understand and influence politics and economics, take up new hobbies, indulge in
‘seriously useless learning’ 2 if they please, or prepare for and enjoy retirement and the third
age – all at a moment that suits them. ‘Such a system gives everyone a real choice of routes
to higher level learning: a stronger escalator from pre-school to post-graduate studies which
one can jump on and off.’3
Lifelong learning has been both a ’handmaiden of a competitive economy, but it is also the
agent of a strong and vibrant society: an emancipatory force that the Labour movement has
long harnessed ……… in our historic crusade for social justice and equal opportunity’4 .
Throughout two centuries it has grown and flourished thanks to the commitment of (mainly)
working people. Its highs and, more frequent, lows are well documented in Tuckett’s writing
in ‘Seriously Useless Learning’ as is the essential inter-relatedness of learning in and for the
workplace with the innumerable forms taken by ‘the learning that we love’. Recent decades
have seen a ruthlessly focused utilitarian agenda that has almost squeezed out everything
else.
Lifelong learning is a key ingredient of national well-being in a democratic society,
potentially providing the intellectual tools for every citizen to participate critically and
positively in shaping a better future for all. At a time when the ‘democratic deficit’ – the
disillusionment with institutions generally and politics in particular - threaten our democratic
system, breeding isolationism and resentment, education has a key role to play in
awakening interest and understanding and in motivating young people and adults. To do
that we need to develop a new form of adult education, one that has its roots in past
traditions but is brought into the 21st century. The challenge to our physical world must
urgently be combatted through public awareness and action. The isolation of the elderly,
physical and mental ill-health- all can benefit from lifelong learning; education must be seen
as an investment not an expense. The potential is enormous if it can be realised. This

‘Seriously Useless Learning: the collected TES writings of Alan Tuckett with an introduction and
narrative by Ian Nash’, Niace, 2014
3
Notes from a talk by Liam Byrne MP to NIACE conference to launch skills manifesto, June 2014.
NB ‘Higher’ is not a term we would use because it reflects the damaging notion of superior learning
that is part and parcel of our class divided education system. ‘Deeper’ would make more sense.
4
Tristram Hunt, MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, in a speech at Microsoft, The Choice in
Education – 70 years of the Butler Settlement, 18.08.14.s
2

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is a serious challenge for supporters of lifelong learning. To strengthen and give depth to
that potential, it is important to ground it in an understanding of sustainability, seen both as
a challenge and as a long-term benefit.
Sustainability
As well as the threat of climate change and the depletion of the earth’s resources,
sustainability is about our capability as human beings to manage and shape society, globally,
for the good of all. That is why, for Compass, sustainability is one of the cross-cutting issues
for the entire education service given its salience for the Good Society. At its core must be
the twin notions of democracy and equality because they are the prerequisites of that sense
of a shared fate and of inter-dependence that we call social cohesion. This is the basis for a
society that values the contribution of all, enabling everyone to flourish – a ’well-being
society’.
A number of steps should be taken to put it on the agenda from the point of view of
A curriculum for sustainability should be developed that:
 addresses the skills challenges entailed in a successful transition to a sustainable
and low carbon workforce

equips individuals and communities as architects and shapers of a better society
embedding sustainability across the curriculum as well as through specific courses

explores the role of democracy and equality in creating and maintaining a
sustainable society.

organization, training and curriculum development.
 sustainable society.
An inclusive system

The decline in enrolments amongst the elderly and the rarity of training opportunities for
paid employees
us of the inequalities
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lowequips
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and communities
as architects
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courses.
as medicine or law, and a small though a growing number of blue chip apprenticeships with
firms such as British Aerospace and British Gas.
For the rest, despite the best efforts of educationalists in all sectors, formal learning after
school can either cease or be a mediocre and demoralizing experience. ‘If at first you don’t
succeed, you don’t succeed’, as Helena Kennedy put it. 5 This is because the pathways for
those who don’t take the A level route are not as clear and well supported. This is not
accidental. The educational system mimics the priorities and snobbery of the social system.
It privileges university education and treats fee paying schools for the elite as charities. It is
much less interested in the education of those in low paid, manual or office jobs without
whom the country could not function for more than a day. The vision of Butler in 1944 of a
tripartite system, the third leg of which would ‘concentrate upon producing the most highly
skilled technologists the world can show’ 6was never realized as grammar schools became
(and remained) the aspiration and technical schools never catered for more than 2% of the
population. Opportunities post-school have mirrored that neglect.

5
6

Learning Works (1997), Further Education Funding Council, Coventry.
Butler speaking in a commons debate in 1944 as quoted by Tristram Hunt in his speech at Microsoft.

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Nevertheless, some of the elements of a lifelong learning system already exist, or are in the
making. For example, further education colleges and adult learning centres provide a wide
menu of courses, whilst a modular qualifications system and open learning providers,
including notably the Open University, make it possible to build towards a degree or similar
qualification at a pace to suit the individual. These developments should be recognized and
built on.
Learning through life- a plan
‘Learning Through Life’, the inquiry into the future for lifelong learning, led by Tom Schuller
and David Watson, set out a rationale and a detailed plan for the introduction of a
comprehensive national lifelong learning system, which we support.7 It is not our intention
here to re-visit in detail the recommendations. Instead, we want to focus on some specific
areas of activity that were touched on by the inquiry and which deserve greater
prominence. In order to do that, we need to outline the strategy set out in ‘Learning
Through Life’.
The Inquiry argues for a four stage approach to the provision of education and a rebalancing of public investment. The first stage would cover the age group up to 25, the
second between 25-50, the third for the third age of 50-75, the limit of economic activity
and then 75 and over. The inquiry calls for a re-distribution in favour of the three later
stages to take account of later economic activity and longer life expectancy. It calls for
distinct entitlements to enable access to various types of learning and the creation of a
citizen’s curriculum. In principle, we support the strategy set out in ‘Learning Through Life’.
We are particularly attracted towards measures that put learning power in the hands of
disadvantaged or ‘second chance’ students through a monetarised entitlement. An
individual or citizens learning account, targeted to prioritise inclusion, would help stimulate
participation, and build on the successful experience of the Army, Ford’s EDAP (employee
development programme) in which Ford established their own university and allowed
workers time out for non-work-related learning, and others where an entitlement to
educational leave leads to a growth of participation. 8 TUC’s UnionLearn has supported the
growth of similar initiatives. The NHS University - designed to address the learning needs of
the lowest paid in the workforce - illustrated an important feature of adult learning:
although marginal to the education budget, it has a key role to play as catalyst in the
achievement of other goals for achieving the good society such as physical and mental
health and well-being.
We advocate several steps that would set England on the road to a lifelong learning
system:
1. Shared planning and oversight arrangements at the local or sub-regional
level for all publicly funded education with local plans and education boards.
2. The creation of citizens’ learning networks and trusts to promote and fund
the citizen’s curriculum proposed in ‘Learning Through Life’ and by NIACE.
3. A strengthening of information, advice and guidance services available to all
through schools, colleges, workplaces and other agencies linked to 4. An individual or citizen’s entitlement to learning available to all as and when
it is needed, through electronic personal skills accounts, supported by tax
relief on learner and employer contributions.
7

NIACE, 2009.
Mace, J. and Yarnit, M. (1987) Time off to learn: paid educational leave and low paid workers,
Routledge.
8

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Digital technology
Advances in communication can dramatically accelerate progress towards an inclusive
lifelong learning system providing for the many the opportunities that have until now been
reserved for the few and giving them the opportunity to shape their own learning and,
through that, their futures. Digitally-supported personalised learning for students is
becoming increasingly common and is better able to meet individual learning needs as well
as employers’ requirements. Its potential can be glimpsed in the way that professional
practice is being reshaped with a shift from measured content delivery to more learnercentred learning.
To a large degree, this is to describe changes that are often seen as technical. What is also
required is a shift in values within education to recognize the way that digital technology can
promote a more inclusive and democratic society. Education should be promoting curiosity –
in learning and about society – and equipping students with skills they need to thrive in a
digital age. This demands a shift from the outmoded virtual learning environment focused
on content delivery to a wifi-enabled, social-media friendly environment in schools, colleges,
workplaces and libraries. Students should be able to access state of the art resources from a
range of locations and on a range of devices. A national set of education digital hubs could
provide the capacity for a national campaign to support digital inclusion as a social, political
and economic feature of the Good Society.

2. Strengthening the local dimension
Redefining roles and responsibilities
Alongside these measures, we advocate a decisive devolution of education responsibilities
and resources to the local level: to counties and city-regions, along the lines suggested by
Lords Heseltine and Adonis in their reports for the Coalition and the Labour Party - but with
more emphasis on the importance of local democratic accountability.
The role of the secretary of state, leading a re-unified education department, should be to
oversee the creation of a national framework for education, setting out objectives, priorities
and standards, underpinned by a clear sense of the purposes of learning and its contribution
to a better, more socially just and inclusive society. Responsibility for the development of
curriculum, pedagogy and qualifications should be handed over to a new evidence-driven
national education council, led by educationalists in alliance with other stakeholders such as
trade unions and employers. Ofsted should be reformed with a greater focus on local
accountability and a formative role, by providing expert support to education providers in
difficulties.
Local education partnerships
Compass supports the creation of local education partnerships – working together to agree
a plan and priorities for their area – that are already a growing trend in places as diverse as
Camden, Liverpool and Suffolk. Their strength is that they bring to bear the combined
expertise and experience of educationalists, usually head-teachers, to tackle local problems.
They rarely deal, however, with pre-school and post-school education and they tend to give
scant attention to the needs of educationally and socially excluded groups such as adults
with learning disabilities or ex-offenders. There are, moreover, important players in the
education service that are rarely found at the table. We need to find ways to help training
providers, for example, move from being merely ‘providers’ of services commissioned by
others to becoming full participants in this democratic process.
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Democratic accountability through local education boards
The real weakness of these partnerships is that they lack clear lines of accountability to the
public they serve. Council scrutiny committees are there to protect the interests of the
community but they are no match for these powerful groups of professionals who are
understandably averse to criticizing each other’s performance in public. They can, moreover,
become distanced from the real concerns of local people.
Unlike many education reformers, we emphasise the practical value of democracy. Working
collaboratively, listening to all the stakeholders, finding consensus: we prefer this as an
approach to setting institutions up in fake competition with each other, and placing public
resources entirely in the hands of unelected, unaccountable chief executives paid rather
more than a cabinet minister. We are in favour of democratically run education institutions,
where the students, the people who work in them and representatives of the communities
they serve all have a say in what happens; where there is a right of redress for students and
parents, and where there is accountability to the community. If you believe in democracy,
practice it.
Local education partnerships are a useful starting point for a more democratic, collaborative
and accountable system but they need to expand to encompass colleges, adult learning and
workplace skills providers. Alongside them we need beefed up scrutiny committees to
provide accountability – at arm’s length from local authorities, to avoid a conflict of interest
with the education services that councils are required to provide, such as support for
children with special educational needs and the provision of school places.
We prefer to call the scrutiny committees ‘education boards’ to reflect their creative as well
as critical roles. Their main task is to oversee the implementation of a local education plan,
drawn up by the local authority and education providers, to propose ways of improving the
service and to provide access to redress for students and parents. These local boards could
be responsible for the appointment and oversight of the Directors of School Standards
proposed by Labour. 9 They would report annually to their community on the local education
plan and success in achieving its objectives. Chaired by an elected member, the boards
should include councilors (from district as well as education councils), education
practitioners and academics as well as representatives of key stakeholders including
employers, students and those who work in education. They would work closely with and
support local education forums and similar bodies. Boards and plans could cover one or
more local authority areas, so that city-regions such as Greater Manchester could set up
unified arrangements, bringing together education, skills and economic development in
ways that suit local conditions.
They would draw on live, publicly available data to feed a system of intelligent
accountability, using formative assessment and a dialogue between users and providers,
supported by Ofsted, to improve provision. The boards would be accountable
 locally to their communities and to governors and parents associations, employers,
trade unions and student unions
 nationally to parliament via Ofsted.
9

David Blunkett leaves it unclear in Putting Students and Parents First (Labour Party, 2014) who
would appoint the directors of school standards and to whom they would be answerable. However on
p.25 he states that the director of school standards would work with what Blunkett terms the
education panel on a long term strategic plan for education and the panel would have the power to
agree the budget proposed by the DSS.

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Local provider partnerships would be accountable to their communities through the boards.
As recipients of public funding, providers would be required to collaborate in drawing up
and implementing local plans.

To summarise our proposals on the local dimension, we support
 A shift of responsibility and resources away from Whitehall to the local level,
leaving the secretary of state the key role of overseeing the creation of a national
framework setting out objectives, priorities and standards.
 The creation of a new national education council for pedagogy, curriculum and
qualifications.
 The creation of a unified department for education.
 The refocusing on Ofsted on formative assessment and expert support for
problematic institutions.
 The creation of local provider partnerships in every locality, to collaborate to
develop a plan for education reflecting local conditions and in line with the
national framework
 The conversion of local education scrutiny committees into education boards
serving one or more local authority areas to oversee the implementation of the
local education plan, to propose ways of improving the service and to provide
access to redress for students and parents.
 The development of intelligent accountability, with transparent and formative
assessment based on publicly available data and rational debate between users,
provider partnerships and local education boards, supported by Ofsted.

Confining Whitehall to a strategic role in education and strengthening local capacity
provides a strong platform for tackling the twin bugbears of the poor standing of vocational
education and the poor skills of much of the population. Before we can develop some
specific measures for resolving these problems we must first consider the state of health of
further education which plays such a vital role in creating opportunities for young people
and adults, especially the most disadvantaged. We then go on to discuss several key aspects
of an emerging system of lifelong learning:
 how to create a better deal for the 50% or so of young people who don’t opt for the
A level route to university
 apprenticeships
 skills for employment
 an agenda for citizens and community education.

3. Further Education
A crucial part of a lifelong learning framework is further education (FE), the least understood
and appreciated part of our education system. It provides a lifeline for the 50% of young
people who do not follow the A level route from school to university, accurately referred to
as ‘the forgotten 50%’, skills for workers and the unemployed and a second chance for
adults returning to learning later in life. The sector trains 3 million people a year, as well as
providing more than 30% of all entrants to HE; it delivers 85% of all Higher National
Certificates and boasts an 85% completion rate.
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FE is not a vote winner but it benefits millions of young people and adults despite being
endlessly browbeaten by Whitehall and starved of resources. It could do better still if
policymakers and politicians stopped repeating some classic errors and nourished its
potential for making us a better educated society, rooted in a shared sense of social justice.
Compass believes that FE needs a fresh start if we are going to get on top of the twin
problems that dog our system: the poor standing of vocational education and the
inadequate skills of much of the working age population.
Before we can get to how best to do that, we have to clear away the accumulated policy
detritus of decades. Like the rest of the education system, FE is a victim of Whitehall
meddling. They may never have gone near a college, a training provider or an adult
education class, but that doesn’t stop civil servants and politicians endlessly devising
increasingly complex arrangements for funding and the regulation of qualifications in an
effort to compensate for the deficiencies of the labour market. So the first step is to
change the rules of the policymaking game, as we argue above: central government sets the
national policy framework – priorities, objectives, standards – and devolves responsibility
and power for implementing it to local partnerships of education providers, local authorities
and other key players such as students and employers.
We also need to recognize the frailty of FE. At a time when the pace and direction of change
places a greater premium on a flexible and responsive lifelong learning system, the capacity
of further education and adult and community learning has rarely been weaker. Local
authorities, voluntary bodies, training providers, universities, specialist adult colleges,
further education colleges: all of these have been forced to dismantle valued local provision
in the face of spending cuts and the re-focusing of policy in favour of a narrow definition of
skills. The WEA, Unionlearn and colleges like Ruskin and the Northern College are now the
vestiges of a once fine tradition of working class adult education rooted in the belief that the
point was to change the world. In an attempt to suck in much needed revenue in the face of
funding cuts, the sector suffers by trying to be all things to all people.
What we do not propose is a transformation of further education. (Or even the creation of
new types of specialist colleges, a favourite device of the policymakers). There has been too
much of that already. Instead, we focus on several aspects of FE where change is most
urgent and valuable in terms of the benefits to a better society.

4. Young people
Young people get a poor deal from education. Too many of them are enrolled on courses
that will do little for their future employment prospects, and a significant minority has
abandoned education and training altogether. However, after many false starts, we are in
sight of a sensible way forward for 14-19 year olds that commands public support. In
preparation for raising the participation age and for the first time since the demise of the
Tomlinson proposals, we seem to be moving towards consensus about what might
constitute a basic entitlement for 14-19 year olds with an overarching Baccalaureate as the
centrepiece. We say 14 rather than 16 not because we favour a great divide at that age but
because there is a strong case for taking preliminary steps at 14 to prepare for the bigger
choices that need to be made at 16+. We broadly support the proposals from the Husbands
inquiry set up by the Labour Party to look at the future of FE, especially the notion of a
National Baccalaureate with general and technical strands.
Husbands proposes a simple four component structure comprising
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a core – including A levels and vocational qualifications

maths and English

personal skills – possibly community service, digital literacy and work related
learning

extended study or project ‘in line with the International Bacc (IB) and the upper
secondary experience offered by independent schools.’

This should advance the educational prospects of those likely to follow a broadly academic
or a vocational route, or a combination of the two. It will certainly be an advance for the
almost 60% (according to 2012 figures) who do not opt for A levels and university entry, and
it should go some way to weakening the snobbish attachment to the ‘gold standard’
qualifications that distort so many educational choices and our system as a whole.
But the proposed Bacc won’t work for everyone, especially the many young people who find
it hard to settle down to study in whatever form. Raising the participation age to 18 may
disguise this problem but it won’t overcome it. The proportion of NEETs remains stubbornly
high. It is 16% of the age group, and up to 25% in places such as Hackney, Doncaster and
Grimsby and expected to rise.10 Raising the participation age also simply postpones the
difficult entry into the labour market.
Young people’s job prospects have been particularly hard hit by the 2008 financial crisis and
the ensuing recession, aggravated by the Coalition’s austerity policies. Youth
unemployment at 881,000 has become a larger percentage of overall unemployment since
2008. 11 DWP programmes are making little headway especially in areas like the north east
and the Welsh Valleys where the number of vacancies is exceeded several times over by
applicants. In other parts of the country youth unemployment figures may be falling but
largely due to a range of insecure, low-quality jobs including zero-hours contract. In this
context Finland’s approach is worth consideration:
Each young person under 25 and recently graduated under 30 will be offered a job, a
traineeship, on-the-job training, a study place, or a period in a workshop or rehabilitation
within 3 months of becoming unemployed. Every school-leaver will be guaranteed a place in
upper secondary school, in vocational education and training, in apprenticeship training, in a
youth workshop, in rehabilitation or by other means.12
10

Neil Lee and Jonathan Wright, Off the map? – the geography of NEETs (2011), the Work
Foundation
11
Unemployment data for March 2014http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN05871/youthunemployment-statistics
12
Commission staff working document accompanying the document Proposal for a Council
Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee { COM(2012) 729 final}, European Commission,
Brussels, 2012, p.5.

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We fully support this approach but would add that it should apply to adults as well as those
entering the labour market.

We favour a package of measures designed to improve young people’s employment
prospects and to make it easier for them to navigate a bafflingly complex education
and benefits system:
1. At the local level, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and their allies
should create education, employment training plans for all young people and
set up mechanisms to track progress of NEETs and unemployed. Their work
should focus on prevention - targeting those most at risk- and accompanied by
excellent careers advice and guidance closely allied to local employment
opportunities. Each area should publish and annually review transparent
information on performance.
2. A new maintenance allowance should be introduced for young people 16-24
taking them out of benefit regulations so that they can take part in workplace
learning, community service and relevant courses of study
3. The Future Jobs Fund should be restored, enabling private, public and not for
profit sectors to take part
4. Community and voluntary organisations should be given a lead role in the
commissioning of support for young people, NEETs and the unemployed with
targeted case management for those most at risk: many children face a
challenging pathway through numerous services and interventions. An
integrated case management approach is needed to improve coordination.
5. Increase knowledge of what works: we need to establish an anonymised
database of the cost effectiveness of intervention (as maintained by NICE in
the healthcare sector) and publish standard guidelines on what data funders
should track to encourage the analysis and dissemination of best practice.
6. Whilst these measures focus largely on young unemployed people, similar
programmes should be created for unemployed adults.

5. Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships is another area where there are welcome signs of an emerging consensus
with the three main political parties competing to have the best apprenticeship policy in the
run up to the 2015 elections. How realistic are their promises, and will the race for everincreasing volumes diminish attempts to ensure rigour and quality? We support the
proposals from Husbands and Richard setting out rigorous standards for apprenticeships and
distinguishing them from shorter, less demanding programmes with little or no off the job

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training.13 Too few apprenticeships are based on rigorous and expansive learning, on and
off the job, with many narrowly focused on skills for specific roles, lacking in underpinning
theory and too short in duration. We also support the proposals for pre-apprenticeship or
trainee programmes: ‘We need pre- apprenticeship opportunities which offer a genuine,
recognised ladder into high skilled apprenticeships’, as Richard argues.
Distinguishing between rigorous apprenticeship programmes and the other less demanding
programmes means that there should be a fall in the number of apprenticeships that can
properly be counted as authentic. Another implication is that the cost of such
apprenticeships is bound to rise. Maintaining, let alone increasing the volume of good
apprenticeships will entail a lot of hard swallowing by ministers.
If we are serious about increasing the supply of apprenticeships and related opportunities,
the key challenge, apart from public funding, is employer engagement, both in designing
and setting up programmes and in contributing towards their cost. The measures set out
above should help. We are, however, sceptical about the Husbands ‘something for
something’ deal with employers which involves handing over control of resources and
qualifications. Employers with large apprenticeship programmes already have a big say in
spending and the design of courses; it is far from clear that smaller employers want this level
of responsibility; in fact as stated above, research indicates the opposite conclusion. Many
FE colleges stake a strong claim to a central role in providing apprenticeships and support to
smaller businesses in apprenticeship management, citing the 300,000 apprenticeships
currently linked to colleges. Whilst we endorse the strong role that colleges and private
training providers can play:
We propose the creation of local or sub-regional consortia involving employers, trade
unions, providers and local government with the donkey-work done by an agency on
behalf of the partners linked with the provision of business advice (as in Emilia-Romagna,
Italy).
.
Then, we might make some progress towards simplifying pathways for sectors and
establishing key qualifications with a public profile.

6. Skills for employment
There is something badly wrong with the UK skills system. Despite the publication of endless
reports and multiple reforms, it remains the case that skill levels across the UK workforce
compare badly with our OECD counterparts. Around 27% of the working age population has
less than level 2 qualifications. 14 Low skill levels – equivalent to GCSE (level 2) and below –
are linked with low productivity, low wages and a higher risk of companies going out of
business. Fortunately, there has been a fall in recent years in those without a level 2
qualification from one third to one fifth although more than double that proportion fail to
get a grade C or above in Maths and English.15
Poor skill levels are also concentrated in former industrial areas and cities, such as
Birmingham and the North East, that have not yet recovered from the contractions of the
13

A revolution in apprenticeships: a something for something deal with employers, Husbands review
of vocational education and training, Labour Party Policy Review, 2013.
14
http://www.ukces.org.uk/assets/ukces/docs/publications/evidence-report-70-uk-skill-levels-andinternational-competitiveness.pdf
15
http://www.poverty.org.uk/30/index.shtml?2; Husbands Review, Qualifications matter, 2014, p.2.

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last four decades. Unemployed people, especially the long term unemployed and young
people, are typically poorly qualified, while those who are not, often find themselves in
areas of the country where job applicants far outnumber vacancies. But even amongst
relatively well qualified people there is often a lack of preparation for work, reflecting the
sometimes weak links between education providers and employers.
This brief review of the UK’s skills problems highlights a major challenge for economic policy
as well as for the FE system, for demand as well as supply. Individually, many employers and
further education providers are keen to rise to the challenge and well prepared for them but
they operate within a fragmented system where the urge to collaborate is poorly rewarded,
where skills policy and economic policy are poorly coordinated and where the prevailing
culture in small and medium sizes enterprises is sceptical about the value of training.
Unlike almost every other industrial country, many employers in Britain think training is
something the state should pay for, an attitude reinforced by the bizarre Train to Gain
programme, where the funding agency begged Tesco to take its money for training the
supermarket giant was already doing. Leitch recognised the problem in his 2006 HM
Treasury report, arguing that if employers in an industry weren’t training 50 plus percent of
the workforce then licence to practice should be introduced.16 Government is not powerless
to change employers’ attitudes and practice, but has to have the will.
Such a shift in skills policy has to be seen as part of a wider suite of policy measures that link
better productivity, higher wages and innovation with improved training on the job as well
as opportunities to take part in learning for personal development.17 We know from
research that the vast bulk of adult employee learning takes place not through formal
courses, but informally and on-the-job. We also know that employers are not always able to
make best use of their existing skills pool.
Therefore, externally provided training should assist employers ‘to re-engineer their
work processes in a manner that expanded the range and quality of learning
opportunities inherent in the day to day routines and processes dictated by work
organization, job design and production processes and technologies’, as Keep and
Mayhew argue.1
The high standards that are routinely required for law, medicine and gas fitting should apply
across the board, with a balance between underpinning theoretical and practical knowledge
and skills. Even in the regulation-averse US, twice as many employees as in the UK are
covered by licence to practice legislation. Employers accept the need for health and safety
rules; why not rules for skilled employees? Vocational qualifications should strengthen
notions of occupational identity and professionalism rather than offering the minimum of
learning required to perform a specific bundle of tasks. Such qualifications would also appeal
to employers who can more easily grasp their relevance and value as recent research by ippr

16

Leitch is quoted as saying "The licence to practice in retail financial services, where you have to be
licensed to sell basic asset management or insurance products, has been a very good thing for the
industry. It protects the consumer, it gives a level of professionalism, it increases the esteem."
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/nov/28/furthereducation.uk1
17
Once workers are inducted the greatest productivity gain, according to the OECD PIACC skills
survey, comes from them learning something for personal development rather than narrow work
related skill. See: Skilled for Life: OECD PIACC Survey, p.16-17

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suggests.18 General education, including the knowledge required for citizenship, should be a
significant feature of all vocational education programmes as is the case in Sweden and
Germany, for example.
All in all, we are proposing a major shift in policy and outlook amongst employers and
policymakers that will require large reserves of political will. Alongside this, there will also
have to be significant changes to the organization of vocational education. Career change is
a feature of the modern labour market that must be reflected in the organisation of
vocational education and apprenticeships. In its review of adult vocational programmes, the
Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning, makes some observations about
the organization of delivery that apply to provision for all ages:
Reflecting on our visits, seminars, and evidence submitted to the Commission, we believe
there are four characteristics on which excellent programmes of adult vocational teaching
and learning depend:
1. a clear line of sight to the real work context on all vocational programmes;
2. ‘dual professional’ teachers and trainers who combine occupational and pedagogical
expertise, and are trusted and given the time to develop partnerships and curricula
with employers;
3. access to industry-standard facilities and resources reflecting the ways in which
technology is transforming work;
4. clear escalators to higher level vocational learning, developing and combining deep
knowledge and skills.19
The emphasis on a clear line of sight links with our earlier argument for the devolution of
responsibility and resources in education from national to local level. Powers over the
planning and delivery of skills and economic development should be devolved to local
authorities and their city-region partners, including employers and trade unions.
All of this matters, but it is also vital that steps are taken to raise employee participation in
workplace education, formal and informal. Over decades employers have proved to be far
less interested in, and committed to, active engagement in the process of design and
delivery of training than policy makers have chosen to believe. Many, especially smaller
businesses, have stated quite clearly that they do not have the capacity to be actively
involved.
In addition, it is important to establish a lead agency that can work confidently with large
employers, group training associations, small and medium sized enterprises and the trade
unions. Currently, BIS, the Skills Funding Agency, the National Apprenticeship Service (now
subsumed within the SFA), the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and Ofqual, who
regulate the vocational qualification system including the new apprenticeship qualifications
being delivered as part of the Richards review, all have a finger in the pie.
We support current moves to establish robust criteria for the design and subsequent
evaluation of new vocational qualifications so that they support wide notions of
occupational identity and progression in many directions; place greater stress on under18

States of uncertainty: youth unemployment in Europe, Spencer Thompson, ippr, 2013, p.3.
It’s about work – the report of the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning, LSIS,
2013
19

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pinning theory/knowledge; are valued by employers and used in recruitment and deliver a
wage premium to holders. But it is hard to see how this can be brought about without
adequate investment and effective measures to generate greater demand for vocational
education and training.
Finally, or perhaps first and foremost, if government will have less money in future to buy
influence and control, it will be far more dependent on the skills of thought leadership and
agenda setting. The quality of VET expertise in Whitehall and regional centres will be at a
premium. As Ewart Keep has argued, ‘we need a UK equivalent of German’s BiBB…a stable
institutional architecture…[so that] good practice can be identified, developed and moved
around the system.’20

We propose several measures for increasing employer engagement and demand for
skills:
 make it a condition of public procurement that employers – including the FE
sector itself - meet training standards in line with the 2012 Public Services Act
and the new EU procurement directive1

20

introduce licensing of skilled occupations and require employers and employees
to meet industry training standards

provide tax incentives for employers as Richard proposes in his apprenticeship
review.1

develop vocational education strategies as a core component of industrial
strategies

require local enterprise partnerships to develop a vocational education plan for
their area with the involvement of employers, trade unions and providers

ensure that impartial information, advice and guidance offered in schools,
libraries and elsewhere properly takes account of vocational educational routes

create a national centre or regional centres for employment innovation to
research ways of improving productivity and to assist employers to design and
deliver good quality workplace learning.

In a note on a Compass seminar on skills for employment (June 2014).

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7. Citizens learning
Adult and community education has struggled to survive in the new, skills-focussed world
with the ACL fund frozen (at £210m) for at least the last 10 years. But the case for it is
stronger than ever, in the face of demographic and social change as well as prolonged life
expectancy with many more people living for decades beyond their working lives. The
result is that more and more people are beyond employment age or have only tenuous links
to the labour market. Yet the economic returns to investing in their learning are as
important as for those of working age. One of the strengths of community based adult
learning is the benefits it brings in terms of better physical and mental health and wellbeing. Another is that it brings together people of different backgrounds and experiences,
something harder to achieve in a more atomised society. Adult learning can also enable
people shut out of the political system to learn how to participate as citizens and influence
developments. A relatively small increase in the overall ACL spend coupled with the
entitlements proposed by the Future of Lifelong Learning Inquiry – through Citizens Learning
Accounts - could catalyse a significant rise in participation in learning after years of decline.
The case, as we say, is strong and largely uncontested but the reality is declining public
investment in adult and community learning, and the disappearance or contraction of the
institutions that have traditionally provided it. The educational impact of the labour
movement is greatly diminished and most university extra-mural departments are now but a
memory. In many ways, we have to start again, to develop new institutions and to create
new networks.
That is why Compass supports the creation of Citizens’ Learning Networks through which
people can develop critical thinking skills together and apply them to the myriad
problems that beset them.
By their very nature, these new initiatives are likely to be autonomous and independently
funded – a new form of mutual or cooperative organization – but drawing on public
contributions from local authorities or local enterprise partnerships in some areas. They will
rest on the energy and imagination of the people who set them up and support them
ncluding visionary local authorities, charities and trade unions.
New technologies have opened up unparalleled opportunities for individual learning. But
many people prefer to learn in the company of others. Citizens’ Learning Networks could
combine new digital learning hubs in colleges, schools, libraries, workplace learning centres
and community centres with the power of volunteer-based learning through the WEA, U3A,
union learning representatives and learning champions. Older people could mentor younger
learners and would themselves benefit from the experience, for no more than the costs of
support and coordination. Technology also facilitates the exchange of skills along the lines of
the Australian Learning Exchanges.
A key characteristic of the Networks would be a relentless engagement with the big issues
defined by ordinary people and through dialogue to identify principles, causes and solutions
– to generate really useful knowledge and frameworks for understanding. This is what we
mean by a citizens’ curriculum. Their success would be judged by the extent to which they
demonstrated the relevance of learning in enabling people to bring about collective action
for social change. The Citizens’ Learning Networks, whilst echoing earlier radical traditions
such as the work of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs in wartime Britain or the work of

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Paolo Freire in Brazil, must carve out a new methodology and develop a new following for
learning with a social purpose. 21
Other aspects of adult and community learning
There are other aspects of adult and community learning which may seem more prosaic but
which are equally important. They have proved their worth but they are suffering from the
contraction of funding.
There is growing evidence about the beneficial impact of literacy, numeracy and problem
solving and adult learning in general. 22 The problem is that funding in England for adult
literacy, numeracy and ESOL (ALNE) has shrunk and access to free provision has been
curtailed – all from a relatively low base. Also essential to the social justice agenda is family
learning but that has suffered a similar fate. The 'long tail of under-achievement' which
bedevils our society starts at birth and must be tackled in the early years. Research has
shown that educational interventions that involve the whole family can make a huge
difference not only to the aspirations and attainment of children but to the skills, confidence
and ambition of their parents or carers. Family learning aims to support each family member
to become lifelong learners. So, what should be done?
Several measures taken together would enable more people to enjoy the benefits of
adult learning:
 Re-establish a wider entitlement to adult learning regardless of age, employment
or benefits status with a statutory entitlement to ESOL provision appropriate to
needs.

Fully integrate ALNE into workplace and community contexts with professional
support from trained ALNE specialist teachers, making use of local mentors and
volunteers such as trade union learning reps and learning champions.

Integrate digital literacies into provision to maximise creative uses, motivate
learners and harness technologies for democratic ends. See the section on digital
technology below.

Improve guidance available to help students orient and keep track.

Help individuals to invest in education through an approach built around
reciprocity and mutual support rather than an extension of commercial debt

Support time-flexible and self-organised models of learning, including mixtures
of formal course participation, self-study activities and informal activities such as
project, reading or writing groups.

As with every part of the FE system, investing in the continuous professional
development of teachers is a pre-requisite for advance.

21

For Freire (1921-1997), the educational process is never neutral. People can be passive recipients of
knowledge — whatever the content — or they can engage in a ‘problem-posing’ approach in which
they become active participants.
22
OECD PIACC Skills Outlook 2013, p. 240; Feinstein and Sabates (2007), Public Value of Adult
Learning: Skills and Social Productivity at
http://www.niace.org.uk/lifelonglearninginquiry/docs/Feinstein-Sabates12.pdf

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Conclusions
Compass believes that the time has come to re-assert the social value of learning in helping
to bring about the three inter-related educational goals of a good society:
 Economic growth and advancement
 Social inclusion and democratic empowerment
 Personal growth and the increase of autonomy.
To bring this about we need to think holistically about the kind of education system we
need. We have argued for a cradle to grave system of lifelong learning to enable everyone to
realize their potential and to develop at the pace that suits them. We have also called for a
shift of power and resources away Whitehall so as to better reflect local conditions. We have
argued for the creation of local education plans and for local scrutiny committees to be
turned into education boards, representing all the stakeholders, charged with ensuring the
accountability of publicly funded education providers to their communities and to
parliament.
Our focus in this paper is on what for the want of a better term we have called further
education and adult learning, as a key component of a lifelong learning system. We have
made recommendations for improving provision for young people, for apprenticeships and
skills for work. We have also argued for a new focus on citizens learning networks and a
citizens’ entitlement to learning as a core component of adult and community learning.
Our concern throughout is to ensure that education contributes to the building of a more
equal, inclusive and sustainable society, and that its management at every level reflects our
commitment to a more democratic and collaborative order. This will require a series of
cultural shifts particularly to the way that the English view the nature of work and vocational
education. It means recognizing the importance of education that
 promotes social mobility and cohesion

opens up opportunities for young people who have not chosen the A level route to
university, and second chance adults

offers learning throughout life and a critical understanding of the world to help
people to both shape as well as adapt to change in their own lives and the reality
around them – to use learning to create a more just society.

For Compass, all these purposes are equally important, as are the values that underpin
them. We want a more coherent, democratized and collaborative service, planned and
delivered locally, guided by a national policy framework. It is this vision above all which
defines the distinctiveness of our approach.

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