Six million with poor qualifications to get second chance at learning

Click to follow
Indy Politics

More than six million people with poor qualifications are to be offered free tuition in an attempt by the Government to increase the number of workers with more than five GCSEs.

More than six million people with poor qualifications are to be offered free tuition in an attempt by the Government to increase the number of workers with more than five GCSEs.

Tony Blair will announce today an extension of the Government's adult skills programme to help people in low-paid jobs who have little or no prospect of moving up the career ladder because they lack basic qualifications.

On a visit to the West Midlands, the Prime Minister will commit the Government to providing free college tuition for all 6.7 million workers in England who currently have qualifications below five GCSEs or the equivalent NVQ level 2.

The scheme will be introduced in the North East and South East in the autumn and, if it proves successful, will be available nationwide a year later. As a result, officials estimate that by 2006, almost one million more working adults will have five GCSEs of grade C or above or their equivalent than in 2002.

Ministers admit that people without good qualifications have been let down by the education system and want to halt what they call "an enormous waste
of talent". The offer of free tuition will save people £100 or more, according to the Government. Employers will be encouraged to allow workers time off and a telephone hotline will be set up by the Learndirect organisation to give people easy access to courses in their area.

Mr Blair's announcement will be made at a meeting with employers and trade unionists as part of the "Big Conversation" listening exercise which is informing Labour's general election manifesto. He will pledge that if he wins a third term, he will seek to "widen the winning circle" of economic prosperity to include more families from middle and lower income Britain. A key aim would be to improve the skills of working adults.

The Prime Minister will say: "Increasingly in Britain, what you learn determines what you can earn. The Big Conversation has shown there is a real appetite among employers and employees for a skills revolution enabling business to become more productive and more families to share in the expansion of our nation's wealth. Skills are key to New Labour's mission, a future fair for all, where in a world of change the many, not just the few, can succeed."

The adult skills push will form a key plank in a "five-year plan for education and skills" being drawn up by Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education. He briefed the Cabinet on it last week and the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday. The blueprint will be published in July.

Mr Clarke told Labour MPs: "Our priority is to reduce the skills deficit by tackling adult basic literacy and numeracy skills, providing every adult with the chance to get five GCSEs, developing sector skills councils to assess and plans for future skills needs." He said the challenges were to encourage more employers to provide training for their workers at every level and develop "a flexible ladder of qualifications".

The other theme of Mr Blair's speech will be "Britain is working", echoing Labour's slogan for the European and local elections. Figures released yesterday showed that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level for 29 years.

* Mr Clarke announced that state funding was now available to help students take A-levels at private schools not available at state schools, such as Latin, Greek, Spanish and History of Art. The announcement was seen as an indication that any Labour hostility to Britain's independent schools was dead.