The John Baillie Memorial Lecture
Adult Education, Workforce Development and Paid Educational Leave
13th May 2002
Comrades and Friends
Can I say at the outset how privileged and honoured I am to be invited by NATFHE to give the John Baillie Memorial Lecture and for this to coincide very appropriately with the launch of the Paid Educational Leave Campaign.
Although I never met John Baillie, in reading his biographical notes and talking to people I feel I knew him well because his vision of radically widening educational opportunities for adults is a vision which I share.
I did know one President of the ATTI in the mid 1970s, the late Stan Broadbridge of Stafford Polytechnic. His political and trade union aspirations were very much mine, so much so that when I taught on miners' day release courses in the 1970s and the 1980s I was often accused – wrongly I hasten to add – of producing too many anarchists, not by the employers but by the union leadership!
I think John Baillie would have been proud of the progress made recently in the campaign for Paid Educational Leave, but along with all of us here, impatient with the need for progress.
A new Trinity?
The trinity of Adult Education, Workforce Development and Paid Educational Leave which is the theme of my lecture tonight provides the appropriate holistic approach, dare I say it, a socialist approach, and one which would have found approval with three dominant figures in the world of Adult Education: Raymond Williams, Jennie Lee and Aneurin Bevan. I am sure that John Baillie would have been pleased for me to start this lecture by referring to them.
I begin with Aneurin Bevan, whose book In Place of Fear was published fifty years ago this year. To mark the 50th anniversary of the NHS and the centenary of his birth, BBC Wales commissioned Trevor Griffiths to write a wonderful play entitled, 'Food for Ravens'. There is a powerful, evocative and poignant scene where the old dying Bevan talks to the young enquiring Bevan: it is a moment of magic, pathos and controlled anger. It is as if it were made for this Campaign and provides us with those essential resources of hope about which Raymond Williams wrote:
"Schooling for our people", said the old Bevan "has always been constructed misery from which a true education has been deliberately excluded – obedience and cringing servility in: imagination and mental daring out. That's always been our sort of schooling, a human dog-training.
Once I asked a simple question,' what do we put in place of fear?' If we let ourselves believe that reading and writing and painting and song and play and pleasure in the imagining, good food, good wine, good clothes and good health: are the toffs-turf, boy, haven't we lost the battle already? Their ours, our human right, all right?"
"How about sums?"
"Sums?, aye, sums too".
"So I can be a toff, can I?"
"Aye, so long as you remember that everything comes from the point of a pick".
Bevan once famously said that his education began the day he left school: his education was the world of work and the solidarity of the pit; it was also his union, the Fed, which saw the importance of education and sent him to the Central Labour College; and perhaps most significantly the Tredegar Workmen's Institute and its Library, an Aladdin's cave of learning for a penny a week docked from his wages.
Aneurin Bevan's life experience and the place of education in his progress is as relevant today as it was then.
The Learning Divide and Social Exclusion: British and European Contents
Fundamental as it is to recognise the economic imperatives of the skills agenda – as Dennis Skinner put it "you can't build socialism when you're skint! – it is nevertheless important to recognise that our overarching strategy must be informed at the outset by the need to address the learning divide and social exclusion. That must be our starting point.
After all, unless we tap the full potential of every citizen, irrespective of social class, gender, ethnic origin or disability, then we will not achieve our twin aspirations of a fair and enterprising society.
A study published in 1999 entitled, 'Paid Educational Leave in Europe – A Strategy for Lifelong Learning?' commented on this very matter of a skills culture and a learning culture that addresses the needs of an economically successful and cohesive society. The report stated:
"The speed at which political, social and technological change is taking place necessitates a continuous acquisition of new skills, knowledge and abilities and calls for a permanent and evenly balanced development of not only vocational and professional but also socio-political, cultural and linguistic competence.
The simple 'stockpiling of knowledge' through basic education can no longer guarantee our future. The ability of society to remould itself and the changing requirements for qualifications necessitates continuous alternatives between work and further training. This means that the importance of lifelong learning stands in a direct relationship to the rate at which knowledge can expand over a period of years and the need to re-orientate to meet this".
We ignore this wider cultural, political context at our peril, as we have seen recently from Burnley to Bordeaux.
The Government's Educational Policy Development
Labour came to power in 1997 under the banner of 'education, education, education' and whilst primary education tended to command the headlines in the first term, a wider perspective began to be mapped out by the then Education Secretary David Blunkett's 'National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning' – the Fryer Group as it became known of which I was a member.
Those involved in the field, members of NATFHE, WEA, AUT and most of all adult learners and potential learners felt we were entering a more benign age. Resources of hope were provided by the University for Industry, re-branded as Learndirect; Individual Learning Accounts – for all its problems it did provide very many adults with new opportunities; there were new learning opportunities for young workers aged 16 – 19; and there is of course the Union Learning Fund (and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales) and the projected Learning Reps. Modest as the progress might have appeared at the time, and difficult as it was to shape 'the big idea' to parallel Jennie Lee's Open University of the 1960s, nevertheless we can see all of this as essential building blocks for today, our second term of office.
I believe the big idea for Labour's second term is Paid Educational Leave. Its moment has arrived; it is essential to our economic prosperity, our social cohesion and, most important, it can be understood by all of us. For too long well meaning schemes have been projected but understood by very few.
PEL presses the buttons
The Paid Educational Leave Campaign presses all the right buttons: employability and competitiveness; work-life balance; widening opportunities, equity, social cohesion and citizenship; European comparisons and International obligations. The OECD, the TUC and our own Government recognise that we compare unfavourably with many European countries including for example Belgium (150 hours per year) and Denmark (52 weeks every five years if in employment in the previous 3 years).
It is therefore heart-warming and highly significant that this Campaign Launch coincides with the Labour Government's firm commitment through the pre-Budget and Budget Statements by the Chancellor to the principle of Paid Educational Leave. I hope and believe this will ultimately lead to universal statutory Paid Educational Leave. And this could be this Government's lasting legacy, as significant as the OU and the NHS if and it is a very big "if" care is taken to address the challenge of social exclusion, the learning divide and now the digital divide.
I would strongly suggest in the forthcoming Spending Review five target groups need to be recognised as at the heart of Paid Educational Leave and that e-learning and appropriate student support be embedded in the strategies. These groups, I would contend, are
1. The unskilled, low paid and unorganised
2. People with disabilities
3. Ethnic Minorities and marginalised communities
4. Homeless People
5. Redundant workers
Much excellent work has been done with and for many of these target groups: for example the Ian Karten Computer Training Education and Communication Centres for people with disabilities wishing to return to work; Steel Partnership Training and local FE Colleges; Unison and the WEA's Return to Learn programmes; NIACE's recent excellent publications 'lifelines in adult learning' focussing on community renewal and widening access to new learners.
But all this has tended to be piecemeal and short term, for obvious reasons. For example, there are 3.3 million people with disabilities of working age who are not working. People with disabilities and people without homes - invariably without jobs – should be given the same rights as those in work. Paid Educational Leave should therefore be interpreted very broadly to take account of this so that it is informed by the more enabling culture of learning entitlement.
All this should at least be put in the context of learning from one another in the now democratically devolved United Kingdom. In Wales, the policy document, The Learning Country, a title with allusions to Raymond Williams' Border Country, has much to offer by way of innovation and equity.
The New Framework
Most significantly now, the Treasury and the Department of Education and Skills recent publication entitled Developing Workforce Skills: Piloting a New Approach provides the new way towards the essential over-arching framework which we need to move beyond the fragmentary approach.
From the outset we are rightly reminded that 'productivity improvements are the key to long-term growth and sustained increases in living standards' (p.1) and that over 8 million people working in the UK have qualifications below Level 2 (about a third of the workforce) and, crucially 'Basic skills at Level 2 qualifications are also often key to preventing social exclusion'. [my emphasis]
The announcement of six Pilot Schemes in England (paralleled probably by a similar number in Wales) will have the four enabling elements: free courses for employees towards their first Level 2 qualifications; paid time off for the low-paid; financial support for employers; and information, advice and guidance. All this sounds like a wish list by NIACE or NATFHE from those faraway days of the 1980s.
The constructive criticisms of the Pilot Schemes by the TUC need serious consideration particularly the need to invest more in the further education sector in order to meet the needs of low skilled employees, particularly those without basic skills. I would contend that there is a need for a similar commitment for the higher education sector.
Alongside these Pilots we have the emergence of the Sector Skills Councils, hopefully one will be proposed for the Steel and Metal Skills Council which would assist these vital industries to manage more effectively the local and global changes now confronting them. The Sector Skills Councils will hopefully rigorously drive forward the new skills and learning agendas.
And the third critical development, the last part of this new trinity, is the recently announced NHS University, whose Chief Executive is Bob Fryer, former Principal of Northern College and Chair of David Blunkett's 1997 National Advisory Group.
With 1.2 million employees, in a crucially important sector, if ever we have a real UfI in the making, it is the Health Service with all the great political, cultural and medical challenges before it.
As the Times Higher editorial speculated recently:
"School-leavers will not provide all the people the NHS needs. Lifelong learning will be enormously important, offering opportunities for upgrading to existing staff, and the chance to return for qualified but inactive staff. How successful this is will depend on the NHS University, about which little is yet known. The NHS University was intended to be about in-service training but it might become more ambitious given the changes sweeping the system. There is room for manoeuvre in its terms of reference as the training and education needs of the new NHS become more apparent. But if it becomes a provider as well as a purchaser of education, it could further increase pressure on the inadequate pool of personnel available to teach a new generation of health professional".
Never one to turn down a challenge, Bob Fryer is likely to be at the heart of the biggest reform of all within a revolutionised NHS.
Conclusion: the beginning of a journey of hope.
Tonight's Launch and the Budget announcement on the Pilot Schemes, provides us with a kind of beginning to a journey of hope. But that journey had started a long time ago and John Baillie played a significant part in that journey as did Raymond Williams, Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee.
In his controversial and uncomfortable work, Towards 2000, Raymond Williams reminded us of our ill-fortune in the early 1980s and the long journey before us:
"If there are no easy answers there are still available and discernible hard answers, and it is these that we can now learn to make and share. This has been, from the beginning, the sense and the impulse of the long revolution.
And that long revolution is also about renewal and re-creation of local social partnerships on the European model at the heart of which must be local unions, local employers and local providers.
In my constituency of Aberavon, the unions, employers, the WEA and Swansea University were pioneers of Paid Educational Leave in the 1950s. Today that early enabling ethos is being re-created by the Port Talbot Union Academy, a partnership of the local unions, (including NATFHE members), the local authority's New Learning Network (funded by Objective One), the WEA and Neath Port Talbot College. John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, will give the Academy's inaugural lecture in October.
It has been a truly long journey, a long revolution, but in these new more optimistic and hopeful times, we have a new atmosphere. Universal Paid Educational Leave will be one of those essential step-changes needed in every generation to achieve fairness and enterprise for all.
I sincerely hope and believe that Paid Educational Leave will be one of the triumphs of the second term.
Aneurin Bevan once wrote;
"The first essential in the pioneers of a new social order is a big bump of irreverence".
Let that "big bump" be the achievement of universal Paid Educational Leave throughout the United Kingdom by the end of the second term: that would be a truly world-class service for all our citizens.