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Mark Haysom, the Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) called on the sector to pull together and work together in the face of what he recognises as a "challenging funding environment".

Speaking at the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) Conference at the London Hilton Metropole Hotel to an audience of FE educators and administrators from all areas, he outlined key areas for progress, and key areas for reform. He assured those assembled that, if the sector works in harmony, the headaches that FE's success has brought upon itself can be defeated.

Cutting the Overlap with the DfES

Mr. Haysom said that he was delighted to be invited to take part in the conference, saying that his year had taken on an "FE rhythm" around the conference timing. He considered himself to be "well "“ placed" to judge the state of play for the sector, having spent what he called a "disproportionate" amount of time on trains going from college to college.

For Mr. Haysom, the publication of the Government's priorities in education was a welcome clarification for those in FE, especially on funding issues. The funding environment is a "challenging" one; and according to Mr. Haysom and projections from a number of organisations, the 2006 / 07 budget will be even tougher. Mr. Haysom sees this as part of the "year of opportunity" he referred to, as the sector now has clear aims and targets. There has also been substantial work in clarifying the relative roles of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the LSC, resulting in less "overlap" and more responsibilities being assumed by the LSC.

The Headache That Follows Success?

The FE sector has enjoyed unprecedented growth and success in recent years, with record levels of young people taking part in all areas of learning and training provision, record levels of apprenticeship and huge improvements in line with the Skills for Life policy. But this has brought its own problems rushing alongside the progress, most notably in the inability of public funding increases to match the rate of increase in demand.

It has been said elsewhere that the current levels of funding represent the "high "“ water mark" as far as government funding is concerned, and is reliant on the current strong state of the UK's economy. And Mark Haysom echoed this sentiment, stating: "The public purse cannot stretch to cover everything." The Government's priorities in terms of policy and targets would be prioritised in funding allocations, creating the "challenging" environment so often mentioned. But Mr. Haysom touched on another growing concern regarding the image and reputation of the sector when he said that the sector "¦can"t get more money simply by saying "life isn"t fair".

With these cautionary notes out of the way, Mr. Haysom looked forward to greater co "“ operation in building towards the future within a realistic framework. He recognises that the LSC is not immune from criticism. He talks of the need for the LSC to "up its game" and, whilst he points out that much has been done to channel funding into "frontline services", the LSC's improvements in general have not been good enough. In this year of opportunity and year of change, the LSC will be part of the process.

Jethro Marsh

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