Section 9. Provision of Education and Training
Though recognising the often neglected importance of informal learning, the Reviews argued for a coherent system of provision of formal learning, and expressed concern at the increasingly fragmented system of provision and funding.
- Fragmentation of education and training provision prevents sharing of expertise and resources.
- The ‘third sector’ has expertise which needs to be incorporated into mainstream education.
- The weakness of local authorities has left a serious gap in the regional and local organisation of provision and the strategic distribution of resources.
- The importance and quality of work-based learning (whether through apprenticeships, school curriculum or retraining) needs more attention and support.
Are the present structures and provision for education and training fit for the 21st century?
Here, as through all the Reviews, we start with the aims of education and thus with the learners – rather than, as so often happens, with the structures and what suits the providers. Given all that has been argued so far, how ought the provision of education and training be organised?
The social, economic and demographic context has changed radically in the last 20 years (Section 3 above). Society is more diverse, and education aims to be more inclusive. New technologies are radically changing processes of communication and forms of knowledge. Greater employer participation in education has evolved. Global economic and cultural factors penetrate every locality. The Reviews, in their separate ways, recognise these changes. They analyse how context has in fact already affected provision and funding. However, they argue for a more radical reformation of the system.
The system as it is
Compulsory schooling is from 5 to 16, and the required participation age in some form of education and training was (at the time of these Reviews) being extended to 18. Prior to that there has been increased provision of, and statutory rights to, various forms of pre-school education (CPR p.78 sq). Post-16, education might continue in the 6th forms of schools, in 6th form colleges or in colleges of further education (NR ch.11). On the other hand, at 16, young people might embark on apprenticeships or enter employment with or without a training which would lead to vocational qualifications. For those who stick to the general education route, there is a wide range of higher education courses to move into – some highly selective.
Adult education provides further opportunities for continuing with education, upgrading of skills, and second chances for those who failed at the initial stages. But, as IFLL, such provision suffers from the inequitable distribution of resources within the system as a whole.
Finally, the significance of work-based learning: ‘Delivery of the work-based route [is] a major (and supposedly growing) stream of provision’ (NR p.135), emphasised by TLRP 8, Higher Skills Development at Work. It is central to the increasing apprenticeships and to the range of in-house retraining in places of employment and through Independent Training Providers. The work-based learning environment is seen by IFLL (p. 53) to need much more attention.
This is a simplified account as Nuffield Review (ch.11) shows. One needs also to be aware of:
- the mosaic of different types of school in the state system: grammar and comprehensive, academies, specialist, voluntary aided and controlled, technology colleges, federated schools – as well as the impact of the independent sector;
- the large number of young people 14-16 (over 100,000) who pursue a substantial part of the curriculum at colleges of F.E.;
- very significant contributions of the Youth Service and Detached Youth Workers;
- the work of the ‘Third Sector’ – the many voluntary bodies, such as Rathbone, Barnados, Skidz, UKSkills, UKYouth;
- different opportunities for part-time education and training;
- contribution of Foundations, such as the RSA, Gulbenkian, Young, Paul Hamlyn, Edge, Esmee Fairbairn;
- different funding arrangements, often for the same work;
- different admissions arrangements.
Once upon a time the Local Education Authorities had a co-ordinating control of the system, but they lost control of Colleges of FE and 6th Form Colleges in 1992, and the new academies are contracted directly to the Secretary of State.
Consequences for system development
It was clear to the Reviews that it is necessary to bring greater cohesion to, and collaboration within, this complicated and fragmented system if we are to achieve what IFLL (p.9) referred to as ‘a learning society’. Indeed, as that Review argued, subsequent learning depends on the quality of learning in the initial phases, since much adult education compensates for failure at earlier stages.
To achieve such a ‘learning society’, the following were recommended:
- ‘a genuine and vibrant localism, in which partnerships between schools, colleges, their communities, and local authorities can respond to children’s needs and circumstances’ (CPR p.255, IFLL p.195 sq).
- ‘strongly collaborative local learning systems’ (NR ch.11) – bringing together schools, FE colleges, adult education centres, third sector organisations, youth service, local employers and independent training providers with links to local primary schools, to local university, and (IFLL p.4) to cultural institutions such as museums and theatres. Given the demands to provide education for all, meeting diverse needs aspirations), no one school can go it alone;
- ‘learning infrastructures’ (IFLL p.55) which look ‘beyond buildings’ and formal systems to social networks and virtual learning environs made possible by technology. Examples: the People’s Networks in public libraries and UK On-line and its 500 learning centres;
- involvement of parents more systematically in learning (NIACE p.27), as exemplified in Family Links (p.21).
Such ‘learning systems’ would have
- in some areas, clustering of primary schools in a common management structure;
- collaborative links between primary and secondary schools to ensure a smooth transition;
- a shared Information, Advice and Guidance (NR p.165-7);
- timetable framework, sufficiently common for enabling all students to participate in different specialist courses. (The resources for these are not available in every provider);
- a sharing of teachers in subjects where there is a national shortage of qualified teachers (e.g. in physics and foreign languages);
- transport policy where needed;
- funding to go partly to the partnership;
- shared professional development, responding to needs identified in the partnership;
Example: The Kingswood Partnership near Bristol consists of six secondary schools and one FE College which has an overall co-ordinator, agreed common funding taken from their separate budgets, a common curriculum framework which enables participation across institutions, and shared administrative posts (e.g. work placement co-ordinator and IAG) that increase efficiency and decrease costs. For instance, the shared and state of the art engineering workshop, made possible through partnership, has 200 young people studying for the engineering diploma, and supported by many engineering. employers in the Bristol area.
Such local collaborative learning systems, the key agencies for which would be an appropriate form of Local Authorities (IFLL p.4), would be democratic, accountable to their local communities including the voices from both the learners and the different providers.
Using new technology
It was surprising to the Reviews how little use was made of new technology in the creation and development of educational provision and partnerships. But there are very good examples reported by the Reviews, surely something to be built upon in future. For example
Smartlab Digital Media Institute provides hi-tech after-school clubs for children in run-down neighbourhoods: ‘It gives them a computer game that requires them to learn some maths and science in order to play’. (NR p.75)
Section 7 referred to the use of technology in the national project for Gifted and Talented Youth (NGATY) through which young people formed a community of learners sharing teacher mentors and tackling common problems. However, the mode of communication, illustrated above and made possible through interactive e-learning technology, provides a model for personalising learning in mainstream education.
The Nuffield Review argued for ‘strongly collaborative learning systems’ – partnerships between school, colleges, higher education, training providers, youth service, employers and third sector (voluntary bodies).
But such partnerships should be continuous, first, with the primary sector to avoid the difficulties at the key transition point between primary and secondary, and, second, with further and adult education to ensure progression through life. After all, as IFLL (p.197) points out, colleges of FE should be treated as ‘an institutional backbone for lifelong learning’, at the same time as being partners in the ‘collaborative learning systems’ from 14 to 19.
All this requires ‘a new local landscape’ with new forms of local control, reflecting local communities and democratic accountability to those communities.