Chapter in: Post-compulsory education and lifelong learning across the United Kingdom: policy, organisation and governance, pp 148-166

The writing and publication of this book has taken place at an important political juncture with the election of the new UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. The book as a whole, and this chapter in particular, provides the opportunity to look back over the past two decades, which include successive Labour Governments in Westminster and parliamentary devolution in Scotland, Wales and latterly in Northern Ireland. This was a period of considerable change in which post-compulsory education, skills and lifelong learning remained a high-profile policy area across all the countries of the UK because of its association with competitiveness in an increasingly globalised world economy and its role in supporting social inclusion (e.g. Leitch, 2006; DEL, 2010), civic participation (e.g. Webb Review, 2007) and the development of a fairer society (The Scottish Government, 2007).

Reflecting on the period since 1999 and parliamentary devolution in Scotland and Wales, we discuss underlying trends influencing convergence and divergence of post-compulsory education and lifelong learning between the four countries of the UK. We then briefly examine the emerging policy framework from the new UK Coalition Government elected in May 2010 and its potential implications.

In the final part of the chapter, we outline three scenarios to explore two key questions:

  1. From an assessment of the early messages emerging from the new UK Coalition Government, what is the likely direction of policy for post-compulsory education and lifelong learning?
  2. Will the process of divergence identified in earlier chapters of the book increase as a result of UK-wide economic pressures?

We conclude by suggesting that what started out in the book as a discussion about convergence or divergence of policy in post-compulsory education and lifelong learning may become part of a much wider debate about the future of the UK state as a political entity.