Monday, January 28, 2008

New Labour Endorses Private Firms' 'Diplomas'

New Labour is to give private companies the right to have their training courses recognised as the equivalent of A Levels.

The media has concentrated on McDonald’s way more than the other firms involved, with headlines such as Would you like a diploma with those fries? or SuperSize my CV. Maybe McDonald’s is more newsworthy than FlyBe or Network Rail, maybe its brand best represents the radicalism of the policy for its supporters or its ludicrousness for opponents.

We should certainly oppose this policy, but be careful how we do so, avoiding chiming in with any snobbishness about academic purity or suggestion that young people who get jobs in McDonalds do not deserve equivalent qualifications to those whose families can afford for them to go to college. Nevertheless, oppose it we must, for two reasons:

  • It is outside public education and training, and is therefore unaccountable;
  • It is run by private firms, and is therefore compromised by the profit motive.

If McDonald’s trains its staff in, say, food hygiene, then it does not do so in the sole interest of public health, but in the interests of doing just enough to keep the inspectors away and the customers coming through the door.

And guess what? The CBI approves, deputy director-general John Cridland saying that the move is ‘a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills and competencies employers and employees need.’ And there you have it – this is about what employers need; for working-class people, it is only about what we need as employees, not as people, so is ‘what employers need’ in other words.

If the government wants the employees of private firms to get skills and qualifications – as it should – then it should require those firms to release those employees from work to go on college courses. And it should tax their profits to fund an expansion of state-run further education.

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