Francis Sedgemore has alerted me to his post on a letter in the Independent from a bunch of professors who are involved in lifelong learning. The line is a familiar one, with which I mainly agree. Francis also makes a highly pertinent comparison with Denmark, whose system of 'folk high schools' is something I have long envied.
I would like to sound just two minor dissenting notes. The first is that though we are indeed sinking under ever-increasing bureaucracy, some of it is self-inflicted by ingrained formal practices and overly complex systems. We can't blame the government for everything (though I do try).
Secondly, the letter says,
We have the same objectives as this Government in wanting to offer a first-class education and training to all and, in particular, to narrow the attainment gap between the most and least advantaged. We have, however, become increasingly dismayed by ministers who are intent on permanent revolution of every aspect of the education system: in so acting, they demonstrate a deep lack of trust in the professional education community.
There is one problem with the call to trusting professionals per se. There are quite a few of them whom I wouldn't trust an inch. What the government needs to do is to trust the right professionals, the ones who are committed to equity and who want to make change happen. And I can assure you that they are the most alienated and despairing of the lot. Much of this is tied in with the collapse of adult education.
In 1997 all of us in lielong learning were excited and energised that, at last, we were going to move from the margins to the centre of our institutions. We dreamt of new, flexible, community based universities that would begin to break away from the old, stuffy elitism and start to become open institutions. We thought that Labour was on our side, but each new initiative narrowed the vision. Now, it seems, we are simply being offered one-chance diploma factories aiming to give people the qualification for a better job. All right, they declare that they want those opportunities shared more equitably, though there is precious little evidence that it is happening and many of their policies also seem to work against it. Overall, the institutional conservatives have won.
And so, it is not just that we need "a more consultative, democratic and inclusive way of developing and enacting policy for all the public services", we also need a vision, one which will inform that policy and support those who share it. The narrow, instrumental vision of the government is not mine and Francis is right when he says that, "the Tories have neither the ideas nor the competence required to put things right". It is no wonder that we are fed up.