THE process of dumbing-down has long been alive and well in the prizes-for-all culture that has gripped education.

For under the cloak of increased opportunity, it was realised by tutors that it made life easier for them and their pupils and put thousands of revenue-bringing backsides on college seats while politicians realised it kept them out of the unemployment figures.

But, now, a new departure is reached whereby the joke courses - dishing out diplomas in such cerebral stuff as pop music and knitting - are made to seem academic when now certificates are to be had for such skills as changing a car wheel, filling in a claim form, wiring an electric plug and pulling a perfect pint of beer.

How society has survived thus far without formal tuition in these things is evidently a mystery to the devisers of the new so-called 'bite-size' one and two-hour free courses now being offered in Lancashire - in places as diverse as pubs and shops - by the new Learning and Skills Council.

I mean, you could go for years wondering which of the three wires on an electric flex went in which part of the plug if you had never seen someone else do it - in which case, you would probably have to live in Outer Mongolia, not Lancashire.

The same goes for filling in form - after all, you can't be expected to know to put your name where it says: "Name" and your address under "Address" unless you've been told by a skills counsellor, can you? It is not that courses are basically either insulting to the intelligence or are frivolous - what benefit does society get, for instance, from increased expertise in Giant Puppet Making, a course on offer yesterday on one of Blackburn's housing estates? - but that they are costing a fortune in tax money.

Is it money well spent - when so much of it is going on tuition in the obvious or on nice-but-unnecessary?

You can bet the tutors or outreach skills counsellors, of whatever they are called, dispensing all this 'knowledge' think it is wonderful, as will a government spouting its commitment to education for all, but then their wages come out of it, don't they?

Cynical old me, however, would ask how many extra hip operations might be carried out in Lancashire if the money its £100million-a-year new Learning and Skills Council is splashing out was on them instead, or how many holes in the roads could otherwise be filled in.

But then those charged with spending public money have never needed tuition in chucking it away.