There have been a lot of talking shops and ideas swapping sessions about skills over the past 4 years. My friend and sister-‘grande dame of FE’, Ruth Silver refers to them as a ‘constellation of commissions’. But where’s the action? Where is the sector’s rightful and angry cry? Who is listening? Who is taking notice of the clear and impartial evidence? Who is doing something about it?
The nation’s skills crisis is as critical as the climate emergency. This is no grandiose fantasy. I was a climate change campaigner in the 70’s when, as a member of Greenpeace, I turned vegetarian and went on demos to cave the whales. That’s also when I began my career in FE. If my 70-year-old elderly knees weren’t beginning to creak with arthritis, I’d do a Greta Thunberg – sit down in silent solo vigil outside parliament with my placard bearing my slogan: SAVE OUR SKILLS NOW
Instead of the pavement, I’ve taken to the podium by agreeing to become inaugural independent chair of the Lifelong Education Institute, the sector-wide, apolitical body set up by Res Publica to take forward into action the work of its lifelong education commission, chaired by former universities minister, Chris Skidmore MP.
The Lifelong Education Institute’s vision is to use the its influence to turn ideas and insights into implementation. With backing from so many members and partners from adult, further and higher education, the LEI is a powerful ‘coalition of the willing’ to amplify workable policy ideas on which there is common accord.
We need momentum to make sure that what we know works (as all the commissions have shown) is made to work. With a shared vison of where the country and the sector need to be in ten years’ time, with policy co-created with the ‘teachers and the taught’, and with a properly funded and championed sector, we can SAVE OUR SKILLS NOW.
The current skills crisis is one whose causes are a long time in the making, and for which the solutions have to take an equally patient and far-sighted view. What we are really dealing with is an interlocking trio of crises: social fragmentation as large tranches of our population fall victim to marginalisation and inequality, decline in our prosperity as our productivity puzzle continues to go unsolved, and neglect of our cardinal virtues as opportunities to flourish and develop are closed to many.
Lifelong education can help address all these crises. It can strengthen the bonds of inclusion by supporting those who have fallen behind. It can overturn a decade of stagnation and restore the UK to growth. And it can give everyone the chance to find new avenues of discovery and meaning.
To achieve all of this, we need to develop new models of teaching and learning that help all of us cultivate the knowledge, skills, experience, and character we need throughout our lives.
We find ourselves on the cusp of a new era of remarkable transformation in further and higher education. The centre of gravity is shifting towards helping learners move seamlessly between education and work, and towards upskilling and retraining as required by a new world of work with more flexible demands.
This raises new expectations on colleges and universities, businesses, and government to work together to provide the funding and frameworks for a new generation of training approaches and qualifications.
To meet these expectations, we have to craft new forms of radical thinking around skills and education. That is the mission of the Lifelong Education Institute, providing a forum to bridge the barriers and boundaries that have shaped the skills and learning landscape up to now.
The LEI will place the needs and experiences of lifelong learners at the heart of the policy agenda and leverage our sectors’ collective potential to put all forms of learning from technical training to academic study within the reach of all. We will help bring together all those with a stake in upskilling the British workforce in a new portfolio of education partnerships and we want to channel the best insights from home and abroad to build the world-leading education system the UK deserves.
Through advocacy and action, the LEI stands ready to SAVE OUR SKILLS NOW.