Documents considered by the Committee on 14th October 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


18 Education and Training 2020

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Education Committee
Document detailsCommission Communication on the Draft 2015 Joint Report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) — New priorities for European cooperation in education and training
Legal base
DepartmentEducation
Document Numbers(37060), 11554/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 408

Summary and Committee's conclusions

18.1 Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union requires the Union to contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems.

18.2 The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training ("ET 2020") was launched by the Council in May 2009. It is designed to cover learning in all contexts — whether formal, non-formal or informal — and at all levels: from early childhood education and schools through to higher education, vocational education and training and adult learning.

18.3 The draft Joint Report — to be agreed jointly by the Commission and Council — reviews the previous three-year work cycle and determines priorities for the future. In reviewing previous work, the Commission undertook what it describes as a "comprehensive mid-term stocktaking". According to the Commission, this confirmed the "great value of an integrated framework covering education and training at all levels". It also confirmed the need to deepen the role of ET 2020 as contributor to the overall EU agenda for jobs, growth and investment.

18.4 The Commission proposes a reduction from 13 to six priority areas, under each of which a set of concrete issues is suggested. The draft Joint Report is clear that it is for Member States to select, in accordance with national priorities, those areas and issues for work and cooperation in which they wish to participate.

18.5 The Minister for Skills and Education (Nick Boles MP) considers that there are no direct policy implications arising from the draft Joint Report. While he believes the draft Joint Report to be a fair representation of Commission views and those of most Member States, he disagrees with the conclusion that there is great value in deepening and strengthening EU co-operation on education in order to improve standards and outcomes at national level. The Government will seek to amend the draft so that it better reflects the UK view.

18.6 The European Union has limited competence in the area of education and training, and it is within that context that ET 2020 should be considered. We welcome the Commission's acknowledgement that it is for Member States to select, in accordance with national priorities, those areas and issues for work and cooperation in which they wish to participate.

18.7 We are content to clear the Communication from scrutiny but note in doing so the Government's intention to amend the draft Joint Report so that it better reflects the UK view that there is mixed evidence of appetite for more intensive co-operation on education and training at the EU level. The Minister disagrees with the draft Joint Report's current assertion that there is great value in deepening and strengthening EU co-operation on education in order to improve standards and outcomes at national level. We note that this wording does not appear in the draft Joint Report and that it is in fact an extrapolation based on various separate statements scattered through the draft Joint Report. It is not therefore clear what precisely the Government will be seeking to amend. We ask that, ahead of the 23 November Education Council, the Minister inform us of his progress in negotiating amendment of the text with specific reference to the precise amended wording achieved.

18.8 We consider the document to contain issues of policy interest and therefore draw it to the attention of the Education Committee.

Full details of the document: Commission Communication on the Draft 2015 Joint Report on the implementation of the Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET2020) — New priorities for European cooperation in education and training: (37060), 11554/15, COM(15) 408.

Background

18.9 Established through the Council Conclusions of 12 May 2009,[ 101] ET 2020 has four strategic objectives:

i)  Making lifelong learning and mobility a reality;

ii)  Improving the quality and efficiency of education and training;

iii)  Promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship; and

iv)  Enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education and training.

18.10 The Europe 2020 Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, published in 2010,[ 102] set out a number of headline targets, including: the share of early school leavers to be under 10%; and at least 40% of those aged 30-34 years should have a tertiary degree.

18.11 ET 2020 provides for the adoption of a Joint Report by the Council and the Commission at the end of each 3-year work cycle. A Joint Report should look at the main achievements of the past work cycle, determine the main remaining challenges and identify the priority areas for the next work cycle.

The draft Joint Report

18.12 The draft Joint Report under consideration indicates that serious education and training challenges face the EU:

·  "20% of 15 year-olds in the EU score poorly in reading, science and mathematics; 20% of adults have low levels of literacy and numeracy, and 25% have low levels of digital skills — yet only 10.7% take part in lifelong learning and very few low-skilled adults.

·  "Early school leaving now stands at 11.1% and 19 Member States have reached the Europe 2020 headline target, but there are still more than 5 million early school leavers, with a high unemployment rate (41%).

·  "Higher education attainment continues to improve and is now 37.9%. 16 Member States have met the Europe 2020 headline target, but employability of graduates remains a severe problem in countries most affected by the crisis."

18.13 The draft Joint Report summarises the main policy conclusions of a comprehensive mid-term stocktaking of the ET 2020 strategic framework carried out in 2014, involving Member States and key stakeholders:

·  the great value of an integrated framework covering education and training at all levels was confirmed;

·  the policy focus needs to be re-calibrated to include both the pressing economic and employment challenges and the role of education in promoting equity and non-discrimination and in imparting fundamental values, intercultural competences and active citizenship; and

·  the role of ET 2020 as a contributor to the overall EU agenda for jobs, growth and investment, including the European Semester, needs to be further deepened.

18.14 The draft Joint Report proposes to steer European cooperation under the framework up to 2020, thus increasing its work cycle from three to five years. It presents the main developments and challenges in European education and training, underpinning the identification of new priority areas and concrete issues.

18.15 The new priority areas identified are:

·  Relevant and high-quality skills and competences, focusing on results, for employability, innovation and active citizenship;

·  Inclusive education, equality, non-discrimination and promotion of civic competences;

·  Open and innovative education and training, including by fully embracing the digital era;

·  Strong support for educators;

·  Transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications to facilitate learning and labour mobility; and

·  Sustainable investment, performance and efficiency of education and training systems.

The Minister's Explanatory Memorandum of 15 September 2015

18.16 The Minister explains that ET 2020 is based on the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), which is a voluntary method of developing policy at an EU level, involving sharing of best practice and monitoring performance using agreed indicators and benchmarks. As such, and given limited EU competence in education and training, the Minister considers that there are no direct policy implications arising from the Report.

18.17 The Minister observes that the draft Joint Report is expected to be agreed by Ministers at the Education Council on 23 November 2015.

18.18 He sets out the Government's position in the following terms:

·  "The report is based on national reporting from Member States and to this extent it is a fair representation of Commission views and those of most Member States. Nevertheless, much of the language used does not reflect current policy, notably in England. It is very jargon-heavy with an emphasis, for example, on language which does not fit with the focus in England on academic rigour, and a knowledge based school curriculum. In contrast, the emphasis on skills as well as knowledge matches well with the statutory curriculum in Northern Ireland.

·  "The report also asserts that there is great value in deepening and strengthening EU co-operation on education in order to improve standards and outcomes at national level. We accept that this view is held by the Commission, and some Member States. This, however, was not the conclusion of the Government's Balance of Competences Report on education and training which found little evidence that ET2020 had significantly influenced UK policy and mixed evidence of appetite for more intensive cooperation at EU level

·  "We will make these points both in official discussions and at the Council in November, and seek to amend the draft so that it better reflects the UK view."

18.19 The Minister concludes that policy exchange between Member States can make a useful contribution to international comparisons on education and training but that the Government will strive to improve the quality of this work whilst seeking to minimise the amount of bureaucracy involved, and avoid prescriptive approaches from the EU and its institutions.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


101   See Conclusions of 12 May 2009. Back

102   See Europe 2020 Strategy of 3 March 2010. Back


 
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Prepared 14 October 2015