Professor condemns class bias in education

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S emphasis on educating the middle class at the expense of basic vocational training was denounced as a national disgrace last night by one of the country's leading experts.

'Britain has a lumpenproletariat unlike any other advanced nation and this shows not only in British factories but on football terraces around the world,' Professor Richard Layard, of the London School of Economics, said.

In the third annual lecture at the Economic and Social Research Council, Professor Layard argued that Britain concentrated resources on education instead of lower level skills because of the dominance of the professional class. Nearly all students could get an academic education free of tuition payments and many of them a significant maintenance grant but, unlike competitor countries, fees were charged for non-degree level vocational training.

'So no wonder there is a problem. We praise VET (vocational education and training), yet we charge for it. We lament that people prefer academic routes to vocational, yet we provide every incentive for them to do so. This hypocrisy arises for class reasons: the children of professionals and managers are mostly not into VET.

'But the effect of it is disastrous. If expanding full-time education is the top priority, Britain will continue to produce a lumpenproletariat,' he said.

Ministers should switch resources towards the achievement of basic skills at National Vocational Qualification level two, just below apprentice level. 'At the top of the skills ladder Britain does not do badly. Thus the increase in skills must be the greatest at the bottom. That is why the problem cannot be dealt with by simply encouraging more staying on in full-time education. The least able would always get left out.'

Professor Layard also called for a pounds 2bn government investment programme over five years and a '1994 Vocational Education and Training Act', which would be at least as important as the 1944 Education Act. 'The tragic reality is that, despite all the rhetoric about new initiatives, real exenditure on off-the-job vocational education and training has, if anything, fallen over the last five years.'

The Government's voluntarist policy had been characterised by a series of short-run responses to what is a long-run problem. It had been a 'formula for national decline', he said. 'If Britain was not so far behind, it might be reasonable to argue in favour of a voluntary approach. But we urgently need a quantum change in the volume of training.' The Government has abolished statutory industrial training boards which collected a levy from companies, except in the construction sector. Among the problems identified by Professor Layard, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, was the British fondness for the 'inspired amateur'.

He argued that there should be greater pay differentials to encourage the accumulation of vocational qualifications. He said it was important to 'think big' and called for:

Free tuition leading to National Vocational Qualifications;

All young people under 19 should be employed on a 'traineeship' basis with clear obligations on the employer;

No employer should be able to employ anyone under 19 without ensuring that he or she receives at least one day a week off-the-job training, nor take on anyone under 21 without offering him or her the opportunity to obtain qualifications;

Much training should be provided in schools or colleges dedicated to specific trades;

Funding should be provided by the national Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils in each locality.

Young jobless double, page 7