Progress towards lifetime learning targets is insufficient, admits a Government paper leaked to David Blunkett, shadow education and employment secretary this week.
The draft document Lifetime Learning: Consultation Document, says that:
* only 7 per cent of people over 25 are pursuing a qualification
* further learning is overwhelmingly taken up by the already well-educated
* 30 to 40 per cent of those of working age expect never to do any more education or training.
Mr Blunkett said the Government had no chance of reaching its national target of 60 per cent of the workforce being qualified to NVQ Level 3, Advanced GNVQ or two A levels by the end of the century.
And while the Government is claiming successes for its programmes, it is cutting its own support for them. Front bench spokesman Steven Byers pointed to the Investors in People programme. "The document describes IiP as very successful. But the fact is that after spending Pounds 60 million in the current year on IiP, it will cut it by 10 per cent to Pounds 54 million in 1996/97 and again to Pounds 52 million in the following year."
Principals at this week's annual conference of the Association for Colleges were dismayed at the news. Patrick Lavery, principal of Southampton Technical College, which was one of the first colleges to achieve the IiP standard, said this contradicted the Secretary of State's address to principals on Wednesday morning.
Mrs Shephard said the Government's common theme was people and their skills. "We have underwritten the Investors in People Standard and I am delighted so many colleges are among the 20,000 employers to commit to the standard."
Mr Lavery said the preparation for IiP had been crucial to the success of his college. Jim Aleander, principal of West Nottinghamshire College, said it would be a pity if colleges were now put off from trying to achieve the standard.
Mr Byers said other programmes were also being squeezed, while the Small Firms Training Loan Scheme which is being spared had attracted only 11 applicants in its first year.
Labour linked the cuts to a general starving of FE, at the same time publishing a survey showing nearly 150 colleges in trouble, 40 of them desperately so. Bryan Davies, shadow higher and education minister, said the Government had: "Devalued and demoralised an education sector that is vital to our national prosperity. Despite their best efforts, even the most succesful of colleges is now facing looming financial crisis".