Political Rhetoric And Policy Reality Education Essay

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Education policy has a broad impact on a diverse group including; academics, teachers, students and practitioners. Essentially education policy has been an ideological concept since the end of the Second World War; linking learning with economic growth, whilst addressing the shortage of post war labour. (Tomlinson, 2005: 405)

In terms of adult related educational provision, it was authors such as Yeaxlee writing in the 1920's who recognized that learning was an ongoing process

'That Adult Education is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship and therefore should be both Universal and lifelong' (Yeaxlee, 2009:25)

More recently the phrase has become widely adopted by UNESCO and world governments, emerging from the 1996 OECD report, 'Lifelong Learning for All' (Scottish Parliament: 2001)

In 1996 the Tomlinson Report became the first national report to focus on Further Education and those Adults with learning difficulties. The essence of the report was one which promoted greater attention to humanistic practice and concentrating on the needs of the individual learner. (Hyland and Merrill, 2003:66-67) It may have been the radical forerunner that inspired the subsequent legislative advisory documents.

1997 witnessed the publication of three major policy reports on the back of this newly emerging global acknowledgement for sustainable learning. These included the Kennedy, Dearing and Fryer reports focusing respectively on further, higher and continuing education developed in response to the new Labour Party manifesto 'education, education, education' (Tight,1998)

The Kennedy Report of 1997, Making learning Work acknowledged the need for choice of provision to support diverse learners and 'set out a radical vision to engage and draw back into further education those who have, traditionally, not taken full advantage of the opportunities provided by the education and training system' Kennedy highlighted the fact that over half the population were only in possession of a level 3 qualification (Department for Employment and Learning, 1999:16-22)

In many ways Kennedy's report has influenced the way in which Education has evolved over the last decade, particularly where widening participation is concerned and encouraging non traditional learners as well as those with specific learning needs to access Education provision. In relation to Adult learners this has impacted on the enhancement of a more adult-friendly education system. (NIACE, 2001:5) However NIACE also note that in respect of Lady Kennedy's vision of 'learning for work and learning for life' being 'inseparable', that this message, despite being expressed by governments and acted on through policy across the whole Further and Higher Education system in the UK was not sufficiently embedded where public funds were concerned and not being allocated to the appropriate areas with which to support this. (NIACE: 2007

It can be argued that the negative affect of funding allocation, in terms of government responsibility has done little to significantly raise the profile of adult learning.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is a non-departmental public body. Established in 2001 it has an overall remit to plan and fund post-16 learning in England, including school sixth form provision, further education, work-based training, and adult and community learning In particular the LSC has overall responsibility to increase adult learning provision and interest amongst older employed and retired people, including the improvement of basic skills such as adult numeracy and literacy (OECD,2003 :18-30) However this responsibility has not always been met with approval. In 2001, less than a year after they were tasked with overseeing Further Education it was announced that the sector was under crisis both strategically and financially (Tysome, 2001) and in 2008 a decision was made to terminate the funding powers of the LSC, which will come into fruition by 2010.

The replacement heralds a new Yong People's Learning Agency designed specifically to support the 14-19 age group and a Skills Funding Agency tasked with focusing on supporting colleges and training organizations. (Kingston, 2008,)

Following the revolutionary policies and recommendations promoted by New Labour the Government initially focused on schools, moving slowly into considerations for improving adult learning; literacy and numeracy skills. By 1998 Sir Claud Moser was tasked with producing a report that would 'tackle the vast basic skills problem in this country'.  A Fresh Start - improving literacy and numeracy was completed and published by the DfEE in 1999 and revealed that England had more problems with adults learning basic literacy and numeracy than any other western country, with the exception of Poland and Ireland. Essentially that one in five adults was illiterate. Immediate recommendations emerged from the report to both raise the quality of learning provision for this group as well as encouraging adults to come forward and enroll on new courses. An estimated £680 million a year was anticipated as a budget towards alleviating illiteracy by 2010. (Literacy Trust)

In relation to how adult access has altered to encompass greater ESOL provision a number of these recommendations have already been implemented and include

The creation of an Adult Learning Inspectorate, given a clear remit by the Government with regard to inspecting and reporting on levels of adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL in partnership with Ofsted. These inspections began in 2002.

In 2002 a National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL was established headed by the Institute of Education at the University of London.

(Literacy Trust)

The Learning Age, was a significant white paper published in 1998 which reiterated the need for citizenship and community, by way of modernizing previous perspectives on education, yet it also conveys the message that learning should be elevated as a means of meeting global competitiveness. (DFEE, 1998)

More recently this cynicism has been reaffirmed by contributions made by Frank Coffield a well known and respected Professor of Education who has openly criticised government for influencing learning by determining it through employers and individuals needing training and up-skilling. Essentially Coffield has labeled Government as fundamentalist; basing its Education policies on three 'underlying and damaging assumptions'; in that 'our future depends on our skills', placing employers 'in the driving seat' and obtaining market competitiveness through learning providers. (Coffield, 2007:16)

There are arguably a number of legitimate arguments to be had for the UK Government needing to raise levels of Education and training for the benefit of the economy, although the reality is that despite the longer-term goals for global competitiveness firm policies are now in place to enhance learning for all. There remains a clear commitment to the early protagonists' views and new Labour philosophies from the end of the twentieth century and this is reaffirmed in more recent papers such as that of James Tarrant, who endorses the current emphasis on the government's drive towards enhancing colleges of Further Education for the purposes of training and development. Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) is now widely recognized throughout western Europe and has expanded largely in response to economics producing a higher proportion of adult learners enrolling onto the further and higher adult education system. This provision has succeeded in changing the more traditional patterns of learning, for example providing more opportunities for single, mothers to move back into the employment sector. As Tarrant points out:

'policy measures have, despite the weaknesses in utilitarianism, encouraged wholesale vocationalism in PCET to the extent of neglecting the emergence of the reflective citizen. PCET is a stage in the educational process in which a democratic government should continue, through the curriculum, to realise its moral obligation to support a further generation of choosers.' (Tarrant, 2001: 369-378)

Irrespective of the real objectives that government may have been working towards over the last ten years or so, Higher Education and Further Education institutions are all committed to encouraging progression and diversity through Widening Participation programmes, changes to admissions and more joined up and vocational training opportunities (HEFCE, 2008; LSC, 2008) for adults requiring at least the minimum basic skills and Skills for Life, including ESOL.

Prior to the Second World War in excess of 90 percent of children would leave the education system at the age of 14; restructures in public welfare, a need to economically revive the country throughout various periods of decline and the expansion of diverse communities entering the UK have resulted in the necessity to change the way in which learning is both delivered and managed.

The focus for policy makers is different year on year but there have been tremendous changes to the way in which education has been able to help people re-train, access new resources and enhance their lives generally. Post compulsory education legislation within this adult learning framework is beginning to develop inclusively in new ways to support community education, prison learning and a soon to be re-structured system for people whose first language is not English. The emphasis everywhere in terms of policy reflects the impact of globalization; the availability of technology to make education more accessible and therefore more available to broader sections of society, combined with the necessity to encompass all diverse learning needs and styles with the evolvement of accredited prior learning and top-up courses for adult learners without qualifications. Greater emphasis is now being placed on Further Education Institutions who are being driven by government to promote inspiring learning provision for the benefit of more disadvantaged groups of people with little or no access to further and higher education. Further Education Institutions are also responding to the government's ongoing skills agenda to combat the current high levels of unemployment and labour skills shortages. Adult learning is subsequently becoming more sustainable and accessible. Similarly new policies reflecting the gaps in Higher Education have emerged in the past few years. University Admissions now have their funding linked to ensuring those groups who are still under-represented are provided with a non-discriminatory application assessment. Access and widening participation agendas promote equal opportunity for those adult learners wanting to engage in Higher Education from less traditional routes and regardless of background and financial status. The Government's Skills for Life policy currently funds and promotes most of the UK's ESOL provision and there are now moves towards linking this more closely to adult literacy and numeracy. From the first waves of immigration during the 1960's to today's multi-cultural communities ESOL has established itself as a distinctive area of learning. With plans to inject more funding and target those groups of potential learners not accessing its benefits such as isolated Asian women and new immigrants entering the country, ESOL is being prioritized more as a basic skill with an increased awareness of the differing nature of ESOL learners' educational backgrounds and existing knowledge, as well as the recognition of the need to develop bilingual taught programmes.

There is a clear commitment by government to sustain and continue to build on the principles of making adult learning more accessible through policy. The motivations to do so are in response to public demand and need; as well as responding to the ever changing economic, social and political environment that the UK continues to experience, within the context of a stronger more politicized European Union and under the broader influences of globalization.