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Having spoken to the audience about the Agenda for Change and the best way for the sector to progress in a new funding environment, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) Chief Executive Mark Haysom faced extensive questioning from the audience.

As the final keynote speaker of the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) Conference at the London Hilton Metropole Hotel, Mr. Haysom was presented with questions and observations from throughout the FE sector, ranging from work "“ based learning providers, through the Church's National Officer for Further Education to the LSDA and prisoner / offender programme representatives.

"A Complaint is a Badly Expressed Desire"

The first comment came from a college principal who began by commenting on matter raised on a number of previous occasions "“ to whit, the perception that the FE sector spends much of its time complaining about funding rather than working with what it has. She pleaded for understanding, referring to the quotation: "A complaint is a badly expressed desire". Her question was more a request, as she asked for time and space to implement the changes to meet challenges; the sector, in her words, needs "space for movement".

Mr Haysom recognised that part of the problem was that the sector had demonstrated its ability to adapt to a multitude of demands, which produces a disjointed and convoluted approach to challenges. He stated that the Agenda for Change would unify the sector and thus avoid this problem in the future, with the outcomes providing "many different solutions".

Alan Murray, the Church's National Officer responsible for Further Education, took his opportunity to express his appreciation for the co "“ operation of the LSC in past projects. He then raised the issue of a "one size fits all" approach to assessment, with a particular reference to the courses being run in religious and community centres which are badly needed by the learners to move on from previous negative life experiences. He singled out the attendance requirements, and called for greater flexibility in approach to this.

Mr. Haysom was reluctant to answer the specific point raised, saying that he would have to have more information on the matter before commenting upon it. He sympathised with the challenges faced in this area, and the stress placed upon the system in adult provision. However, he stressed that government priorities would have to be the focus for action.

Perceptions, Offender Learning and Partnerships

The chairman of GHB Group was the next to address his remarks to Mr. Haysom. He asked how colleges and work based learning providers "“ of whom GHB are one "“ can better work in harmony. He told the audience that these partnerships do exist on a limited scale, and asked how the sector will be able to use the strengths of each in co "“ operation.

The issue of co "“ operation between service providers to offer the best possible facilities had been raised previously, by spokespeople from (amongst others) the LSC, the LSDA and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). Mr. Haysom echoed what had been said, saying that there is a shared agenda here and that there would need to be hard work in achieving this. He professed himself to be "optimistic" that this would come to pass.

Colin Booth from Newcastle College stood next and raised the subject of offender learning and the overlap of responsibilities between different agencies. He asked specifically who is responsible for driving up quality in the sector, and further asked Mr. Haysom to give the conference an idea of his plans over the course of the next three years.

Mr. Haysom admitted that the whole field of offender learning provision was a learning process for the LSC as well, and that there was not a great deal of clarity regarding where responsibilities lie. And whilst he did not give a specific three year timeline, he said that the LSC has as an "absolute priority" that quality standards and the opportunities offered to offenders was a "mainstream" activity, and that they were entitled to the same standards as any learner.

A spokeswoman from the Ufi then turned matters back to the statements made the day before by Ruth Kelly, Minister of State for Education, regarding the limited value of Level 2 qualifications to both potential employers and therefore also their limited worth to learners. She called for consideration to be given to whether this is the right way to achieve a change in perception on the part of the public.

Mr. Haysom responded that he appreciates the point that if the Level 3 qualification is the one that employers are looking for, it may be an area that will merit further attention in the future. He told the audience that there would be pilot schemes on a local level to support this in the coming year. However, the state funding, he explained, is for Level 2 qualifications, and speculated that it may be necessary for employers to contribute towards training their workforce to a higher level.

Funding Change for Funding Troubles?

The first of the final two contributors was Warren Edwards from West Herts College, who asked mr. Haysom if the Agenda for Change would see any new initiatives brought in to tackle trouble with funding allocations. And then, finally, a spokesperson from the LSDA raised the issue of E-Learning and how it might be affected and affect this agenda.

Mr. Haysom chose to answer the second question first, addressing it in terms of changes in systems and processes. He realises that this is a big challenge, and put forward the hypothesis that it could be a question of simplifying what is already in place. He cited one particular area, the standardisation of means for data collection and holding rather than a plethora of them, as being especially helpful.

Mr. Haysom then tackled the funding question raised. He expressed himself as "horrified" at the sheer number of people employed simply in gathering data, and said that money needed to move out of data and funding administration and into the frontline services. He also pointed out that if the "benchmark" way of running colleges can be demonstrated this will also help to move further resources to the frontline. He said that a "fortune" is spent in propping up failing colleges, and contended that if they were all run efficiently then funding would be freed from failure support to actual progressive investment.

He finished by saying that the more the sector can demonstrate the "excellence" of what they do, the more investment they will be able to usher into the sector.

Jethro Marsh

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