The end of the skill bead game ushers in a new era of paternalism

The Skills Bill brings to light more than four decades of statist beliefs, writes Tom Bewick

The skills bill has entered the last of its parliamentary stages, known as ‘ping-pong’. This cute little verb, like the game of table tennis, is an apt way of describing the battle of wills that is now raging between the elected Commons and the appointed House of Lords.

Considering that the government has the majority in the House of Commons and the most seats of any political party in the Lords, the outcome has never been in doubt. Ministers and senior officials will get what they want.

But perhaps it is worth reflecting on why the government has suffered so many defeats in the upper house. A series of robust amendments were passed with support from all parties, only to be overturned in the House of Commons.

When historians look at this historic legislation, they may wonder why two giants of post-war education reform ̶ Lord Baker (Conservative Education Secretary, 1986-1989) and Lord Blunkett (Labor Education Secretary, 1997-2001) ̶ found themselves in such an agreement trying to change so many aspects of a fundamentally flawed bill.

From the beginning, the ministers have made it clear that their desire is to give themselves and related quangos more statutory powers to design, finance, disburse and direct technical education reforms from the center.

As Baker noted in his speech last week: “At no time has any government or minister said that a student cannot take two qualifications that are funded and available. This has never happened before in our history, so why is it being done now? The government has never justified this, and it is extraordinary.”

Likewise, despite the introduction of local skill improvement plans, Whitehall officials will eventually approve of them.

Amendments have been introduced to significantly strengthen the role of elected mayors, but what we have instead is a weakened devolution.

The same applies to qualifications reform. The view seems to be that faculties, course leaders and students cannot be trusted to make informed choices.

Students in the future will not be able to combine A-levels and T-levels. It seems that we are entering a new era of paternalism, where decisions are best made by the state in the form of the Institute for Learning and Technical Education.

And don’t believe all the hype about this being an employer-driven skills revolution. That’s not it.

Don’t believe all the hype that this is an employer-led skills revolution

Parliamentary Undersecretary Alex Burghart is proud that 250 employers have been involved in the design of these technical education reforms to date.

Is he seriously trying to tell us, in a British economy of 5.6 million companies, that a cohort equivalent to just 0.0045 per cent of all employers is a good example of grassroots reform?

No, this is a top-down technocratic revolution that brings to light more than four decades of statist beliefs that the answer to our relatively poor productivity and skill performance is more bureaucracy. It doesn’t matter whether the ministers are Labor or Conservative.

The architect of these reforms, Lord Sainsbury, wrote a book in 2020 praising the authoritarian impulses of the Chinese Communist Party. What more do I need to say?

Indeed, without any apparent irony about who has been in charge over the past decade, Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently lamented the UK’s comparative inability to equip adults with vocational technical qualifications and the fact that employers invest around half the European average in training. in the workplace.

Of course, the government would say the post-16 skills and education law is the answer. Instead, we will end up with an imperfect law on which future generations can build.

For example, the genie is out of the bottle in the lifetime skill guarantee. It is only a matter of time before we see a statutory right to lifelong learning.

As in all great parliamentary and political battles, the compromised among us will live to fight another day.

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