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EU Education and Youth Council

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012

I represented the UK at the 26 November Education Council. The Council adopted two sets of non-binding political conclusions, on literacy, and the role of education in Europe 2020; and a recommendation on the validation of non-formal learning. Ministers also discussed how the quality of teachers can be improved at a time of scarce financial resources.

Literacy

Non-binding conclusions on action to improve literacy were adopted. I intervened to acknowledge the importance of literacy but expressed doubt about the added value of EU-level action. Specifically, I questioned whether a proposed “Europe loves reading week” would be a good use of scarce resources, and whether Ministers really knew enough about the costs and benefits of such an initiative.

Education and training in Europe 2020

Non- binding conclusions on the role of education and training in Europe 2020 were also agreed. While accepting that education has an important role in promoting growth, I intervened to urge the Commission to move away from a prescriptive approach in the education field that is characterised by target-setting. As an alternative, I cited the OECD’s approach to putting high quality analysis and data into the public domain, challenging policymakers with evidence from around the world, but leaving it to individual countries to draw their own conclusions for policy design.

Validation of non-formal and informal learning

The Council adopted a non-binding recommendation calling upon member states to commit to the recognition of non-formal and informal learning within national qualification systems. The UK already has such systems in place at present.

None of these items will have any direct impact on the UK, and there are no follow up actions.

Improving teacher quality and status

Ministers had a useful discussion on how the quality of teachers can be improved at a time of scarce financial resources.

The Irish Minister opened the debate, highlighting the “inconvenient fact” that Europe is no longer the best place to get a good education and that we are now in a period of technological change which demands better, more effective training and support for teachers. I cited key UK reforms to improve teacher quality, including our ambitious “Teach First” programme, and initiatives aimed at making it easier for head teachers to tackle underperformance.