From education to employment

ALP Chairman Celebrates Positives in “At Last – Progress”

The great and the good of the learning providers of the UK gathered together in the conference facilities at the Radisson SAS Hotel near Stansted Airport for the annual Association of Learning Providers (ALP) conference.

Introducing the conference, their chairman, Martin Dunford ““ also the Chief Executive of the Training and Business development Group (TBG) welcomed the many delegates and made the time to welcome the announcement of the victorious London bid to host the 2011 Skills Olympics. He then addressed the recent past and the near future for their particular areas of the FE sector. And, in spite of the many pitfalls that may lie ahead, the outlook ““ according to Mr. Dunford ““ is a positive one.

Past Perfect

Mr. Dunford took the opportunity of standing before the delegates to observe the growth of the importance and impact of the ALP on the FE sector in general. He spoke of the sense of “anticipation and optimism” enjoyed as the FE world held its breath for the unveiling of the Foster Review last Autumn. Speaking of the findings, he drew one central theme from the lengthy document; namely, that the sector must now become a single integrated sector with its focus set squarely on the provision of skills for the work place.

As such, the ALP ““ he believes ““ is the ideal body to bring into action many of the designs of Sir Andrew Foster. He also expressed his doubts of the time of the report that the entire affair, in spite of the rapturous reception from most quarters, would fail to be implemented in its entirety. It would seem that the recent FE White Paper met his fears on this score, with promises of opening the training market to contestability, competition for the best provision possible, and a doubling of the budget within the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) for demand ““ led training.

Agenda for Change, and Always Look on the Bright Side of ALP

The LSC has also offered, through agenda for change, a policy that seems to be heading in the direction that Mr. Dunford hoped. The continuing development of new methods and funding proposals would, he said, have an impact on the entire sector and would offer all providers the right and chance to provide “top quality” training. The question that remains on his lips, it would appear, is when this will happen.

The picture painted of the LSC was not universally positive. In discussing the impact that Train 2 Gain (T2G) and Employer Training Pilots (ETPs) are having ““ with 70% of ETPs delivered by the independent sector and with the promise that 80% of T2G funding would be contested ““ he mentioned his earnest hope that individual local or regional LSC initiatives would not “skew” the impact. Without mentioning specifics, he gave the impression that on certain occasions various LSCs had favoured colleges being the centre for T2G programmes ““ a position that the ALP would not accept. As he put it, it is time for the “fine words to be put into practice at the coalface.”

The future, however, seems to be a positive one. The ALP now has some 440 members, with the next stage of development the interaction with contracted employers through the LSC schemes. Furthermore, without what Mr. Dunford referred to as a great deal of effort, the ALP now has some 57 FE College members. The future is a happy place, it would seem, as long as the fine words of the Government on apprenticeships, employer engagement, and opening the learning market to contestability, prove to be more than just words. Mr. Dunford signed off with a clear indication of his satisfaction, as he changed the title of his speech to “At Last ““ Progress!”.

Jethro Marsh

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