Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


EDUCATION AND TRAINING 2010 WORK PROGRAMME (13415/05)

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP, Minister for Life-long Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills

  Your Explanatory Memorandum dated 30 November 2005 was considered by Sub-Committee G on 26 January.

  We fully support the long-term objectives of the Education and Training programme and are glad to know the Government is broadly content with the draft report.

  You will be aware from our Inquiry Report on the EU Integrated Action Programme for Life-Long Learning, (HL Paper 104-I published in April 2005) how much importance we attach to ensuring that life-long learning programmes demonstrate a genuine commitment to older learners and are well-tailored to their needs. We believe this is vital to the Lisbon agenda, especially in view of demographic trends in Europe. Regrettably, the draft report does not seem to us to give sufficient emphasis to this aspect. We would welcome your views on what more might be done to reinforce this requirement and ensure that the Commission and Member States take it seriously.

  More generally, we must say that we found the draft report to be pretty indigestible and badly in need of a good concise executive summary. We would be glad to know whether the Government can do anything at this stage to persuade the Commission to make it more user-friendly.

  We also question whether the mass of information contained in the draft report, and the very broad-brush nature of much of the content, is likely to make a significant contribution to the achievement of the programme's objectives and thus whether the effort involved in preparing it is really worthwhile. We would be grateful for your views on this and to know how much use the Department and UK education authorities and professionals make of the report in planning and carrying out national education and training strategies.

  We will retain this document under scrutiny pending your reply.

27 January 2006

Letter from Bill Rammel MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 27 January, from which I am pleased to note that the Committee supports the long-term objectives of the Education and Training 2010 programme, as outlined in the 2006 joint progress report.

  We share your view on the importance of adult learning to the Lisbon agenda, particularly in view of the demographic trends facing Europe. To this end, we have managed to secure a reference to taking forward the follow-up action related to the Hampton Court summit as one of the priorities for the work programme. The need to take action to maintain economic growth in the face of the demographic challenges facing Europe was one of the key outcomes from the summit, and we believe that this link should help ensure that adult education and training is a priority within the programme. To deliver this priority, the peer learning clusters, which will be the main vehicle for taking forward the work programme, now contain adult learning as a transversal theme across half of the proposed clusters.

  In response to your point on the need for an executive summary, we have worked with the Austrian Presidency and other Member States to agree a two-page summary of the key messages of the report, to be presented to the Spring European Council. This aims to raise the profile of the work programme to the Heads of State, and make it easier to understand the key messages.

  You raised the concern of whether the draft report was likely to make a significant contribution to the achievement of the programme's objectives. Although we share your concerns about the broad-brush nature of the content, we do nevertheless believe that this report breaks new ground compared to previous reports. For the first time, the analysis in section 2 of the report is based upon contributions that Member States have made, with the result that the report contains a very helpful summary of the current state of play of education and training systems across Europe. We also believe that the establishment of peer learning clusters as the main method of delivery of the work programme is a significant step forward. It represents a more decentralised approach, which could potentially lead to more useful outcomes, with less bureaucracy. We also strongly support the emphasis on increasing monitoring and evaluation of policies. This should help move towards an outcome-based approach across the EU, which is very much in line with the UK approach, and will help articulate the benefits of education and training to the wider Lisbon agenda.

  In response to your point on the links with UK domestic policy, the Department intends to be an active participant in the programme of peer learning clusters as outlined in this report, which will not only enable us to showcase our education and training strategies in Europe, but also to learn from best practice in other countries in a way that could be potentially more useful to us than the previous method of expert groups. Furthermore, the priorities outlined in this report will form the basis by which the UK will submit its National report on the implementation of the programme to the Commission in 2007, in which the Department will report on how it is responding to the agenda set by the work programme. We do therefore believe that the priorities outlined in this report have the potential to benefit the UK in carrying out our National education and training strategies.

7 February 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 7 February was considered by Sub-Committee G on 9 February.

  Although your letter does not say so, your officials tell us that you are anxious for an urgent decision on the scrutiny reserve because the Presidency want the report to be adopted at the Education Council on 23 February. Your officials also assure us that other Member States are ready to adopt the draft report, which would leave the UK isolated at Council if the reserve was not lifted. It is a pity that your letter failed to explain this and gave us so little time to consider the request.

  In the circumstances, and because this is a non-binding exercise which Member States have voluntarily agreed to carry out, we are prepared to agree to release this draft report from scrutiny as requested to enable you to join the expected consensus for adoption at the Education Council. Please report on the Council decision.

  We are glad to learn that the Government are working with the Austrian Presidency and other Member States to agree a much-needed two-page summary of the key messages of the report for presentation to the Spring European Council. But we consider it is unacceptable that Member States should have to remedy the deficiencies of Commission documentation. In our view, the Commission have a duty to present the report in a format and language which are readily comprehensible to busy non-specialist readers. We strongly recommend that they should be taken to task for failing to do so in this case and urged to produce more satisfactory reports in future.

  Your reassurance on the importance of adult learning is welcome as far as it goes. We are glad that it has been included as one of the priorities in the follow-up action from the Hampton Court Summit. But we could not judge from your letter what this is likely to mean in practice because, from what you say, so much seems to depend on the "peer learning clusters". Unfortunately, we are not familiar with that term and your letter does not explain it.

  At our request, your officials have given us an explanation of the meaning of "peer learning clusters" and a copy of a Commission note for the Education and Training 2010 Coordination Group on the use of these "clusters" in the context of the Education and Training 2010 work programme. This sets out the themes on which the "clusters" will be working and what appear to be the cross-cutting measures related to that activity. But it omits to say who the members of the clusters are. As we see it, the value of this activity will greatly depend on the level at which it is carried out and especially whether those who take part in it have relevant and recent practical experience of the topics which they will be dealing.

  Nor does the material we have been given explain how or by whom the work of these clusters will be organised or how it will be funded. But it does give the impression of a great deal of complex structured activity which seems likely to be costly and difficult to manage and which could be inherently bureaucratic and wasteful. We would be obliged if you could explain more clearly how this process is expected to work in practice, the extent to which it will be related to relevant current experience in education and training and how undue expense, excessive bureaucracy and unnecessary effort will be avoided.

  Your letter also seeks to reassure us that the priorities outlined in the report may benefit the UK in carrying out national education and training strategies and that it could be potentially more useful than the methods previously used in this exercise. That is very welcome, but my letter to you dated 27 January also asked how much use UK education authorities and professionals would make of the report. Your reply did not address this point, but we were rather surprised to be told by your officials that education authorities and professionals are very unlikely to make much use of the report because it is "aimed at Member States and European level".

  We do not find that statement reassuring. It does not help us to understand the purpose of the report. Nor does it seem to be consistent with our view that this programme should be soundly-based on real needs as identified by relevant and up-to-date practical experience and devised in a way that will gain the confidence and support of those who will have to carry it out. We would welcome your comments on that.

13 February 2006

Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 13 February 2006. Please accept my apologies for the short notice to lift the scrutiny reserve on the draft Joint Interim Report. I would like to thank you for your flexibility in responding so quickly, and am pleased to be able to confirm that the Education Council has adopted the draft report.

  In your letter, you recommend that we should take the Commission to task for failing to present the report in a format and language which are readily comprehensible to non-specialist readers. I share your concerns about the readability of the text, and my officials do work hard to improve the drafts during the negotiations. However, we face the practical difficulty that when texts are being negotiated by so many representatives who are not working in their mother tongue, the resulting prose can be less than clear. I would also like to explain that the purpose of the two-page key messages paper is not to rectify the drafting of the main report. Rather, it is to ensure that the key political priorities can be clearly highlighted for the European Council.

  You requested more information on how the "peer learning clusters" would operate in practice. The clusters are groups of policy officials from Member States who have expertise in a particular policy area, and have chosen to work together to share their knowledge and experiences. Each cluster will agree particular themes on which to organise study visits or seminars. These visits will be hosted by a specific country. The UK has proposed hosting a study visit on "Modernising Higher Education", in line with the Prime Minister's desire to take forward the Hampton Court summit outcomes, and policy leads from the UK will participate in cluster groups covering "Making Best use of Resources", "Maths, Science and Technology" and "Key Competences".

  With regards to the funding of these activities, the Commission will meet the travel costs of delegates and the countries hosting the study visits will meet the costs of holding the seminars. As I mentioned in my previous letter of 7 February, we do believe that these clusters could present a more effective way for policy experts in Member States to share good practice in areas that are of interest to them, than has been the case in the past. However, we share your concerns about excessive bureaucracy, and will press the Commission to ensure that the focus remains on the practical sharing of best practice amongst Member States.

  I would also like to explain why I believe that education authorities and professionals are unlikely to make use of the 2006 Joint Interim Report. The Education and Training 2010 work programme is intended to provide a framework for Member States to co-operate with each other under the Open Method of Coordination, to allow them to implement their national education and training strategies more effectively. It is therefore a tool to enable national policymakers to improve the formulation and delivery of policies through learning about what has worked in a range of different contexts.

  This report outlines the priorities of the work programme, and will be taken forwards by the Commission and national policymakers in Member States. It is therefore not intended to be aimed at education authorities and professionals, and is unlikely to be of direct interest to them. These groups are much more likely to be interested in the Education and Training Programmes, in which they can participate, and which are managed separately from the Education and Training 2010 process.

20 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 20 April which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 11 May. We note that the Education Council adopted the draft report on 23 February.

  On the quality of the report, what you say about the practical difficulties posed by negotiating texts when representatives are not using their mother tongue may be so where last-minute amendments are concerned. Even so, the Commission ought to be staffed by officials who are sufficiently competent in the main working languages to help representatives of Member States to cast amendments in a comprehensible form.

  But in this case we assume that the indigestible jargon-riddled text about which we were complaining was originally produced by the Commission. We see no excuse for that, any more than we do for the lack of a proper Executive Summary, which the Presidency and Member States ought not to have had to remedy.

  We reiterate our view that it is the duty of the Commission to produce documents in a format and language which are readily comprehensible to busy non-specialist readers and we are disappointed that the Government does not seem to be willing to complain about the Commission's failure to do so in this case.

  Thank you for your explanation of the way in which the "peer clusters" are supposed to work. We hope that when the next Education and Training programme report comes to be considered the effectiveness of that method of working will be demonstrated.

  We are still not entirely happy with your explanation that this exercise is unlikely to be of direct interest to education authorities and professionals. We fear that it may indicate a mismatch between the way that education policy is formulated in Brussels and the real world in which it has to be put into practice. But that is perhaps something we can discuss with Judith Grant at our next informal meeting about the implementation of the Life-long Learning Programme on 25 May.

12 May 2006



 
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