95% of adults should have basic skills competencies and 40% of the adult population should have a Level 4 award or higher by 2020.

These ambitious statements formed part of Lord Leitch's "Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills: final report" published yesterday (5 Dec 2006), which, among other recommendations, suggested:

"a fully demand-led approach, with an end to this supply-side planning of provision".

Other key findings from the report indicated:

  • a further streamlining of the Learning and Skills Council,
  • simplifying the body's remit to focusing on "processing funding for Train to Gain and Learner Accounts and ensuring effective competition. The LSC should not undertake detailed planning at national, regional or local level".

Lord Leitch cited the 2005 Foster review's findings that the UK's qualification system was:

"confusing and complex with 115 Awarding Bodies and in excess of 5,000 qualifications in the National Qualifications Framework", adding that "the qualifications system is not easy for learners, employers and others to understand or navigate".

He suggested that the Sector Skills Councils continue building their programme of National Occupational Standards and furthermore:

"Sector Skills Councils should be responsible for approving qualifications after their development by awarding boards or other organisations. They should reject qualifications if they fail to adequately capture the competences laid down in occupational standards".

Responding to the Leitch report, University and College Union (UCU) Joint General Secretary Paul Mackney expressed concern:

"We cannot understand why employers should be given until 2010 to implement a voluntary "pledge" to enable employees to attain basic skills and level 2 qualifications. We have no confidence that there is sufficient employer commitment to achieving this target.

"We don"t want all the skills funding to be dependent on the constantly changing short term needs of employers. Further Education is better equipped to judge both immediate and long-term skills needs taking account of regional and national factors. We welcome the target of 90% of adults at level 2 by 2020 but commitment to full level 2 provision must not be at the expense of courses such as adult education classes which can help unqualified students build confidence and progress towards qualifications.

"The over-dependence on expansion of Train to Gain as the solution to skills shortages is a serious weakness. We don't want the tendering process for this to destabilise FE at a time when stability is needed to tackle the nation's skills needs", he added.

Dr John Brennan, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said of the review:

"The major funding changes proposed will require careful planning and their managed introduction over a realistic period of time to maintain stability of provision for the millions of adults currently in colleges.

"It is disappointing that the report fails to include more emphasis on mechanisms such as License to Practice and tax incentives, to reinforce statutory entitlements. In addition, the introduction of Learner Accounts require high quality, strict regulation and probity if they are not to fail as did their predecessor, Individual Learning Accounts".

And Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP, commented:

"Previous Government skills programmes have not had an illustrious history so far. Train to Gain suffered from deadweight costs and did not necessarily benefit employees whose companies weren"t already engaged in training. Individual Learning Accounts had to be abolished in 2001 because poor implementation led to massive fraud.

"The Liberal Democrats will be keen to see the practical details of how the Government chooses to implement Leitch's recommendations. Money needs to be spent effectively and efficiently in order to bring about results - government policy has not always measured up well to those criteria".

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