From education to employment

Education and Skills Committee publish findings of further education analysis

A report published today has branded the Government’s planning and funding mechanisms for skills training as incoherent, over-complex and burdensome, whilst also claiming that ministers are not approaching the problem with the urgency it deserves.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills has today released its Fourth Report, detailing an intensive analysis of the structures, policies and funding habits currently embedded within the UK’s further education system.

Among the many recommendations, the Committee state that Government “spell out” what skills and employability actually include and exclude, whether it extend to all learning or in developing technical and generic skills for particular occupations.

And in response to the National Union of Student’s (NUS) frustration at Government failure to properly implement a thorough learner representation network to which they have committed themselves, the Committee urges policy makers to make a clear statement for the future.

Further to the debate over competitive tendering in FE, the Committee have expressed their concern about the practical implications of replacing or putting out to tender areas of failing provision within a college.

There was an understanding about the limited funding available for adult learning. However, the Committee outlined that investment in priorities was having an adverse effect in learning opportunities fundamental to Government policy, concluding that “the dividing line between what is of value, to individuals and to the economy, and what is less so, is nowhere near as clear as is currently implied in government rhetoric”.

Furthermore, they recommend that Government should target funding based on more solid and extensive research than is currently available. Yet the Committee remained curiously silent about closing the funding gap between colleges and school sixth forms, citing that “the Government told us that narrowing the gap further was a high priority, and they must demonstrate this by revisiting the remaining funding gap after the next Comprehensive Spending Review has taken place in 2007″.

And in a chastising move for the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the Committee have concluded that the body “has much to prove over the coming years”. Continuing: “In particular, the Learning and Skills Council has to respond to criticisms of its tendency to make bureaucratic demands over college recruitment, course validation, and local strategies”.

Recommending the implementation of a “National Learning Model” as Government’s utmost priority, the Committee cited that early action on this “would send out a clear message that the Government had taken seriously the need to better integrate further education into its wider education strategy”.

And furthermore, they conclude that Ministers must take a greater responsibility in “promoting the achievement and potential of the sector”. Rejecting plans for a separate Minister for Further Education, the Committee did however, welcome the Government’s move to establish a joint LSC/DfES programme board, to oversee implementation of reform.

Concluding, the Committee reported: “The intention is that school and college provision will be better co-ordinated and planned, to enable all young people to access the full range of the new vocational diplomas and an appropriate range of provision at 14-19. It is clear that attention is being paid to policy development in support of this agenda”.

“However, inconsistencies remain between the funding and planning arrangements for schools and further education colleges at policy level which translate into paradoxical, and occasionally self-defeating arrangements locally”.

Read the full report here.

Vijay Pattni.

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