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The Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) has responded to the proposed merger with Ofsted, calling attention to the problems it would bring and the success of the current system of inspection.

In March of this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced plans to streamline government inspectorates as part of wider public service reforms designed to save millions of pounds by cutting bureaucratic wastage. The proposals outline intentions to reduce the number of government inspectorates from eleven to four and include plans for a single inspectorate for education and children's services based upon an enlarged Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

The proposals, which are currently the subject of a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) consultation, also outline plans to absorb the work of the ALI into an enlarged Ofsted. Both the ALI and the training providers and employers it works with have voiced strong concerns about the ability of the proposed "mega-inspectorate" to meet the needs of adult learners, business and the national Skills Strategy in an organisation whose primary concern would focus on children's education and welfare with iits "adult" remit representing less than a tenth of its child protection and school inspection work.

The ALI So Far

The ALI, a non-departmental public body established under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, inspects and reports on the quality of education and training for adults and young people (post-16) funded by public money and delivered either by traditional education providers or by the private sector. It works with a wide range of partners, including the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Jobcentre Plus and has enjoyed a close and productive relationship with Ofsted in planning, conducting and reporting inspections of further education sector colleges.

The ALI is particularly concerned that the new £0.25 billion government department will only cover the inspection of further education and adult learning funded by the DfES. It will not cover three areas of work currently undertaken by the ALI: the investment made by other government departments in the training of adults, voluntary commissions for inspection by the private sector, which invests over £20 billion a year in the national Skills Strategy and quality improvement activity.

Save a Penny, Spend £2.50?

A PricewaterhouseCooper study commissioned by the government less than a year ago seemed to indicate that there is little discontent with the current arrangements of the ALI and Ofsted working together in further education colleges and that a single inspectorate for children and learners would be ineffectual. The same report found that the savings from the merger would amount to just £2.3million a year which would be swallowed up by the cost of bringing the two bodies together for between four to nine years afterwards.

Whilst the ALI have pledged their support to the government's plans to tighten up statutory regulation of child protection and schools and to provide a deregulated environment for business, it is sceptical as to whether losing its independence and being absorbed into an enlarged Ofsted will give sufficient priority to adult learners and the national Skills Strategy.

The closing date of the DfES consultation on the planned merger is the 4th of November 2005 and the new regime is intended to be operational from April 2007.

Michael Lloyd

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