From education to employment

ALP Chief Executive on Debate, Discussion and the Way Forward

Graham Hoyle, the Chief Executive of the Association of Learning Providers, spoke to FE News recently about the needs of the Further Education sector and the way in which it tackles the demands of the next twenty years.

Sitting in the hotel lobby off Caxton Street with the sunshine of an August afternoon in London spilling through the windows, the conversation covered a number of topics. These ranged from including the Leitch Review, the Foster Review, and the skills that will be required in the coming decades through to the ongoing conflict between FE colleges and Training Providers, and how it can be best resolved for the benefit of the learners and potential employers.

“Forty Hands Went Up”¦”

Some weeks previous to this meeting, Mr. Hoyle had been part of a team debating at the Learning Skills and Development Agency (LSDA) Conference. His position, in which he was joined by Ann Rossiter (Acting Director of the Social Market Foundation), was putting forward the motion that “individual choice can only be met effectively by extending the choice of providers.” In the end, the motion was defeated by some 125 votes to 40; and, in light of the audience voting, Mr. Hoyle indicated that he was surprised to get forty! Indeed, he said that he had been “keen to get the exact number counted”, as it was closer than he had anticipated.

Mr. Hoyle, however, was not an unmitigated fan of the precise wording of the motion; he disagrees, in fact, with the notion that “only” through extending the choice of providers can individuals get better choice. He said that “both are required”, and stressed that an increase in provided courses within an extant institution would be more effective in some circumstances.

Foster, Leitch and the ALP

In the coming months, there can be little doubt that much of the attention within the FE sector will be focused on the Foster Review (chaired by Sir Andrew Foster and featuring an Advisory Group drawn from many different areas of the sector, which will be making its recommendations in November 2005) and the Treasury’s Leitch Review of Skills, which will report back to the government on the skills that the British workforce will need in 2020.

Mr. Hoyle has responded with his views on each of the commissions following their calls for the submission of evidence. And whilst he refreshingly recognises that the FE College sector is critical to any development, and points to the great body of good work being done by the professionals in the field often working in trying circumstances, he pointed out that the sector as whole seems to be “primarily geared towards FE Colleges”.

There are, as Mr. Hoyle sees it, two routes for providers (whether college based or training providers) to follow if they want to address the needs that are present. The first (hereafter referred to as “a”) is the “individual needs” route, where the description of the needs comes not from a potential employer but from the individual learner. The second alternative (hereafter referred to as “b”) focuses on “employer needs”, stressing the demands of the employers and focusing on achieving the trained workforce that is required.

Share and Share Alike

What Mr. Hoyle fears is that the pressure is on for providers to become something which they are not. As with the proposed creation of a single inspectorate under the aegis of Ofsted, thus ending the independence of the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), he sees the danger of learners suffering from desperate attempts to fit round pegs into square holes. As he says: “Too many people are merging the two approaches. They are not the same.”

He sees the natural role of the FE College as fulfilling role “a”, with a more learner centred approach that is locally adaptable and relevant, whereas training providers are best equipped to tackle role “b”, where their nationwide status and their practice of specialising within given industries makes them ideally suited to bringing the right training opportunities to the right workplace. But, in spite of his best efforts, the merger of ALI into Ofsted would seem to indicate the tendency to view the entire FE sector through a single lens.

Jethro Marsh

Which are you looking forward to more, Foster or Leitch? Tell us in the FE Blog

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