At the recent Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) conference at the London Hilton Metropole hotel, various representatives of organisations within the FE sector came together to discuss the best way forward. Prominent amongst them was Mr. Rob Wye, the Director of Strategy and Communications at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), who shared his thoughts with FE News.
The discussion was very wide ranging, and covered lifelong learning, basic skills and Level 2 provision, the new Employer Training pilot's move onto the national plain, and the strict targets that have been set by the LSC. He discussed the issues raised by the co "“ operation of so many different agencies, and looked forward to the work ahead in the light of both the challenges and opportunities presented.
Basic Provision for Basic Skills and Apprenticeships
The discussion began with the question that had been raised earlier in the main conference hall, namely the Government's and consequently the LSC's focus on the provision of Basic Skills and up to Level 2 training for all. The interviewer raised the matter of the funding of the expansion of work "“ based learning packages and the often cited need to train up to Level 3 to have any tangible benefits to either the individual or to the economy.
Mr. Wye re "“ iterated the position that the achievement of Basic Skills and Level 2 qualifications were priorities for the present, and to that end the pilot schemes that have thus far been local projects (the Employer Training projects) would be expanded to become a nationwide system. He stated that, at the drawing board stage and as an idea for the future, there was a similar scheme for Level 3 training; but that this has yet to be fully developed, and also that this would require employers footing a greater share of the bill.
In this, Mr. Wye was echoing a feeling shared by many within the FE sector, that as employers stand to gain through a better trained more efficient and therefore productive workforce, they should be expected to contribute towards the cost of re "“ training. Employers would also realise the benefits, both of the Level 2 and the embryonic Level 3 Employer Training projects, if they were to more consistently release employees for training.
When asked about the position and future of apprenticeships within the sector "“ an area often overlooked to some extent "“ Mr. Wye announced that the LSC have set themselves ambitious targets on the number of people in apprenticeships this year. He also commented that there was a retention issue in apprenticeships, with learners often moving on or simply stopping and going back to work before they have completed their apprenticeship.
Union Reps and the ESOL Retention Issue
There has been an influx of immigration from the newly - admitted EU member states for the past several months, which raises issues regarding the provision of ESOL training. The question of employer contribution again came to the fore, and Mr. Wye acknowledged that there was sometimes a problem in finding the required level of sustained co "“ operation.
Mr. Wye stressed that providers would have to work with the LSC to better the provision, and shared the belief that, as a happy worker is a more productive worker, providing these basic life skills to an employee would definitely offer benefits to the employer. He praised the work of the union education representatives, many of whom now feature on local LSC councils, and looked forward to expanding that co "“ operation still further.
"I look down on him, and look down on him"¦"
As much as the FE sector as a whole is seen as the "Cinderella Sector", there are even within this internal shades of grey. One such is seen when looking at the esteem and funding issues between colleges and training providers, who both represent a large part of the sector. Mr. Wye agreed that there was a disparity in perception, comparing the situation with HE, FE colleges and Training Providers to the famous comedy sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. He has spoken with Mr. Graham Hoyle of the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) about this, and will continue his consultations on the matter.
Turning his attention to the debate surrounding sixth forms in schools and their disproportionate funding when compared with FE College sixth forms, he said that he agreed that this would have to be resolved. As the whole sector agrees on this, the first step in this direction can be found in the Agenda for Change.
Collaboration and Steady Development
One other recurrent theme at the LSDA's confernence, both in and out of the debating hall, was the need to encourage the co "“ operation between different learning providers thus affording the learner the best possible facilities. Mr. Wye pointed out that this was fairly well developed in a number of areas, such as Kent, Knowsley, and his own hometown of Northampton.
He acknowledged that this was not a nationwide picture, and said that some areas were still based on competition ahead of co "“ operation. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has issued its 14 "“ 19 strategy document, and Mr. Wye stated that co "“ operation between providers was at the heart of the 14 "“ 19 agenda. However, the LSC have yet to see what money will be allocated by the DfES for encouraging collaboration; until this becomes clearer, individual LSC councils will have to continue in the current manner.
At the Association of Colleges conference the previous week, Peter Lauener had presented the DfES 14 "“ 19 strategy to the assembly and admitted that on occasion "“ particularly in 2006 "“ they had set themselves some very difficult targets. When asked about the feasibility of this timeline, Mr. Wye said that, given the complexity of the FE sector, it was necessary to work backwards from 2015 (the last year covered by the Ten Year Plan) rather than plan forward year on year. And whilst the timeline was acknowledged to be ambitious, he believes it is achievable, stressing that it is better to get it right more slowly than to make mistakes through haste.
In closing the discussion, Mr. Wye moved back to the general perception of the sector and said that his aim whilst he is in his position is to enhance the reputation of the sector for stakeholders on all sides, so that everyone can recognise the importance of and the achievements of the sector.
We at FE News are very grateful to Mr wye for talking to us, and would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his work for the LSC.
How ambitious is the DfES strategy? Tell us in the FE Blog