2.2 Political Background

As a backdrop to this discussion of training issues, the needs and aims of the archaeological profession have to be seen in light of the national government’s agenda. The buzz-phrase of the Labour Party’s 1997 general election campaign was ‘education, education, education’, and the party’s manifesto made it very clear that education at school-level and training for skills – as life-long learning – were core issues. The government that then came to power on this manifesto recognised that presenting the UK as simply offering a cheap labour platform for international investors, with a workforce largely trained only in basic numeracy, literacy and IT skills, did not allow the country to compete effectively. The education system had to be transformed to meet what were seen as the essential needs of the rapidly growing global economy, which involved developing a highly trained layer of those needed in a skills-based economy, which has contributed to an expansion in the number of students entering higher education.

"The education system had to be transformed to meet what were seen as the essential needs of the rapidly growing global economy, which involved developing a highly trained layer of those needed in a skills-based economy"

The government's subsequent initiatives showed support for the learning of skills - and the quantification of the skills required by different sectors was an essential starting point. To this end, the system of Occupational Standards that had first been introduced in 1986 (DE and DES 1986) was revisited and reinvigorated as the preferred vehicle for defining and setting occupational competencies. A series of bodies have been charged by the government with the responsibility for development and successful implementation of occupational standards; in England this is QCA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, who, together with SQA (the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and ACCAC (Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru/the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales) form the Projects and Standards Approval Group (PSAG). PSAG is the body which ultimately accredits occupational standards, giving them the status of national occupational standards which allows their use in the creation of National (or Scottish) Vocational Qualifications – N/SVQs.

English Heritage (EH), as the body that provides expert advice to the Government on all matters relating to the historic environment and its conservation in England, has a central strategic grant budget (administered through Archaeology Commissions) that the body uses to fund important archaeological activities and strategic initiatives (fulfilling its remit under the National Heritage Act 1983). The Archaeology Division of English Heritage prepared a draft research agenda (EH 1997) that identified 'supporting the development of a professional infra-structure and skills' as one of the division's primary goals. This was supported by an Implementation Plan (EH 1998), the crucial element of which was Programme 14: Developing skills and within that, point 14.5: Development of career structures and minimum standards of employment. By setting out these objectives, using language that established how enhancing the skills of archaeologists would link to the government's declared political intentions, English Heritage established a framework that would allow archaeological training initiatives to be well placed to receive governmental support. Similar arrangements are in place in other parts of the UK (Historic Scotland 1999; Cadw 2001).

The IFA has been able to play a key and reflexive role in connecting the objectives of the national heritage agencies with the needs and priorities of the archaeologists who undertake this work. This has meant that the IFA has established an agenda for raising the standard of archaeological practice across the UK, primarily through enhancing archaeologists' skills.


Last updated: Tue Sep 10 2002

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