Books. New Labour's Educational Agenda: Issues and Policies for Education and Training from 14+


Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2000), "Books. New Labour's Educational Agenda: Issues and Policies for Education and Training from 14+", Education + Training, Vol. 42 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Books. New Labour's Educational Agenda: Issues and Policies for Education and Training from 14+

New Labour's Educational Agenda: Issues and Policies for Education and Training from 14+

A. Hodgson and K. SpoursKogan Page1999ISBN: 074942608X£18.99

Keywords Education, Policy, United Kingdom

Hodgson and Spours have written a thoroughly good critique of New Labour's approach to vocational education and training in the UK. Political commentators have argued that despite pre-election rhetoric (John Prescott, for example, was still arguing for a return to the "levy system" as close as one year before Labour's election victory), little has changed in New Labour's policy and practice on vocational education and learning (VET). Such comment is clearly misleading; the situation is complex and changes are evident. While Hodgson and Spours acknowledge that New Labour's policies have been largely dominated by responses to the Conservative legacy, they note important changes, notably their focus on social and educational inclusion.

Although the authors discuss the different facets of VET policy and practice in some detail, underpinning the book as a whole are questions about the extent to which the approach(es) adopted can be characterised as a "weak framework" approach or a "strong framework" approach. For example, in respect of qualifications and the curriculum Hodgson and Spours argue that New Labour have followed a weak framework approach:

Represented by the development of a limited range of linkages within a divided and incomplete national qualifications system. A strong framework approach, on the other hand, would involve the building of a single, unified and inclusive qualifications system from 14+ with credit accummulation and transfer possibilities. New Labour is currently still at the weak framework end of the continuum...

This "tool" for critical assessment works well. Although one criticism might be that the authors, having acknowledged that it is a continuum, tend to classify policy/practice at the polar ends, in the main it provides the reader with an accessible and meaningful way of looking across the dimensions of VET and seeing the big picture.

The subtitle to the book indicates that 14+ is the point of demarcation. This is interesting and reflects the fact that the curriculum and qualifications at 14+ are increasingly seen as the starting point of a transition to adult and working life. The book does not, however, remain rooted at the young end of the labour market. There is a useful chapter on skills, training and the world of work where the authors critique the Government's competitiveness agenda in relation to low, intermediate and high-level skills. Lifelong learning is also addressed. Pertinent questions are raised about flagship initiatives such as the University for Industry and Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs):

Proposals still look very much like a collection of interesting and potentially useful initiatives, rather than a coherent strategy for work-based learning.

Given the changes announced in respect of ILAs earlier this year the authors' suggestion that:

ILAs could peter out following the end of the subsidy from TEC reserves

looks a sound prophecy.

Overall the authors conclude that New Labour's approach has been characterised by a "weak framework" approach. Whether a second term of Labour will see the adoption of a more distinctive approach, or whether voluntarism is a permanent feature of what has been termed the "third way", remains open to question. Things change fast on the VET front. Almost as soon as such a book is published further changes are announced. The changes announced in the "Learning to Succeed" White Paper (i.e. Learning and Skills Councils, etc.) are absent. But, do not let this put you off reading this book. While in one, rather narrow, sense it may have a limited shelf-life more realistically it stands as an important testimony to a critical period in the history of VET. Such a period has only just begun. It is an excellent read for any trainer, tutor and student of human resource development and can be used by them as a basis from which to chart and monitor New Labour's progress and frame pertinent questions as to where our VET system is going.

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