Back in December 1996 a fresh-faced Tony Blair famously set out his priorities for office as “Education, education, education”.
And he meant it. The problem is, however, that the managerialist obsession of Blair and his revitalised social democratic party led to a blizzard of legislation and reform that turned into a permanent revolution within schools, colleges and universities. Education professionals cannot keep up with all the changes, and we see worryingly large numbers leaving teaching to take up more sensible careers in plumbing and the like. Many of those who remain say they feel alienated from the system, and are increasingly bogged down in bureaucracy.
Nearly 12 years following Blair’s speech at Ruskin College – an institution devoted to continuing education – a number of academics have delivered their verdict. In a letter in today’s Independent, Frank Coffield and Stephen Ball, both from the Institute of Education in London, lifelong learning expert Richard Taylor from the University of Cambridge, and Kingston University vice-chancellor Peter Scott, describe current government policy as no longer a solution, but now the greatest problem facing education.
The learned professors are right. We’ve now had over a decade of Labour government dismissing evidence-based practice in education and other fields, the pre-emptive rubbishing of critics through spin doctors, and consultation exercises that are in reality policy implementation announcements. And to cap it all the government is set to destroy the adult and continuing education sector, thereby removing opportunities for workers to train and retrain in response to market needs.
As someone who has lived in Denmark – a country with a highly flexible labour force made possible through extensive opportunities for lifelong learning – I can only despair at the situation in Britain. New Labour has turned education into a disaster zone, and the Tories have neither the ideas nor the competence required to put things right.