Taskforce under fire for ‘earn or learn’ name

Prime Minister David Cameron’s new troubleshooter taskforce that aims to ensure young people are “earning or learning” has started “on the wrong foot” — young people can do both, sector leaders have pointed out.

Downing Street announced on Tuesday it was launching implementation taskforces, made up of high-ranking Conservative MPs, to ensure government priorities spread across more than one department were being delivered.

The groups are due to start meeting in the next few weeks with focusses on, among others, housing, troubled families, extremism and youth unemployment — entitled by Number 10 as ‘Earn or Learn’.

It contains Skills Minister Nick Boles and his predecessor Matthew Hancock, now Cabinet Office Minister, as chair and they will be tracking progress on the government’s aim to create 3m apprenticeships by the end of the current Parliament.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) chief executive Stewart Segal said the move was “potentially very helpful”.

But he added: “Perhaps the first action would be to rename the group Earn and Learn which is the main feature of any good work-based learning programme.”

Former principal policy officer for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education Alastair Thomson agreed.

“This particular grouping starts off on the wrong foot,” he told FE Week.

“There’s nothing wrong with making sure all young people are earning or learning but smart policies would try to encourage and support those who want to do both at the same time.”

Completing the make-up of the Earn or Learn taskforce will be, among others, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Ducan Smith and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the group would be “making sure policies are implemented, troubleshooting and fixing teething problems”.

Mr Thomson described the taskforce as “a good idea”.

“Too often policies get lost or distorted by departmental turf-wars,” he said, pointing to Policy Action Teams, a similar initiative set up by Tony Blair’s government in 1999 to work across departments.

“These came up with plenty of good ideas although their lasting impact was blunted by the Whitehall machine,” he said.

He warned there was a “risk” that in trying to meet the 3m apprenticeship target the government could “end up diluting quality to achieve an arbitrary volume target”.

Mr Segal said: “It’s potentially very helpful that all of the major departments concerned with employment and skills are involved in this taskforce.

“It is a longstanding AELP view that we need a more integrated approach to employment and skills programmes which results in more people securing sustainable employment.”

Martin Doel Association of Colleges chief executive said: “We will be seeking to discuss with all of the Ministers involved the essential role of colleges in delivering their ambitions.”

Lynne Sedgmore, 157 executive director, said the formation of the taskforce was a “welcome step”.

She said: “We have long believed a more joined-up approach to policy making is needed across government to achieve lasting impact and to avoid unintended consequences.”

See feweek.co.uk for the list of all MPs on the Earn or Learn troubleshooter taskforce.