From education to employment

Exclusive: ‘The final nail in the coffin for Leitch Review’

John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, on the machinery of Government and the demise of the LSC.

Skills provide the key to unlocking both individual potential and our nation’s potential for growth. To extend opportunity we must provide everyone with access to the education and training they need to meet their goals. Yet, government statistics show that numbers for those studying in FE colleges, in work-based learning – including apprenticeships – and in adult and community learning are all in sharp decline. At the same time the number of inactive young people, not in education, employment or training, has risen to well over a million. Little wonder then that the first few months of this year have been marked by a flurry of Government announcements on subjects ranging from the future of the LSC to employer accreditation of qualifications. But rather than extending opportunity, these changes will erect additional barriers, preventing FE colleges and other providers from responding to the choices of learners and businesses.
On 17th March the Government announced that the LSC will be abolished by 2010. At first glance a reform that appears to follow the Conservative agenda. Indeed, last year John Redwood’s Economic Competitiveness Review advocated that the costly and bureaucratic LSC should be replaced. However, on closer inspection it is clear that rather than reducing the number of funding and regulatory bodies in the skills sector the Government is actually replacing one body with three new ones: a Skills Funding Agency, a National Apprenticeship Service and a Young Peoples’ Learning Agency. What’s more there will be no reduction in bureaucrats and no saving for the taxpayer.
The announcement that the LSC will lose responsibilities is not new. Following the division of the DfES into two separate departments last year, the Government announced that funding 14-19 provision would pass to local authorities. What remains of the LSC is now to be re-branded as the Skills Funding Agency. But what was not previously made clear is that a newly established Young People’s Learning Agency will also have responsibility for overseeing local authorities’ skills funding role.
The latest changes follow countless reorganisations of the LSC in its short eight year history. Just last year the Government pushed through Parliament the Further Education and Skills Act which regionalised the structure of the LSC at a cost of nearly £56 million pounds. The latest changes will not result in any administrative savings as the overall skills budget of £11 billion will be divided between these two agencies. In an open message to employees the Chief Executive of the LSC, Mark Haysom states that ‘in 2010 some of our staff will transfer to local authorities and some will move across to the two new organisations.’ He makes no mention of possible redundancies.
The establishment of a Young People’s Learning Agency adds yet another body to an already overcrowded sector. Last year the Government established a new Commission for Employment and Skills and, under the machinery of Government changes, the RDAs will also be given a role through the transfer of responsibility for Train to Gain. The demarcation between the responsibilities of these various bodies is unclear. Although the Skills Funding Agency will have responsibility for apprenticeships and the National Apprenticeship Service, Local Authorities will also have responsibility for delivering apprenticeships in their area. So, local authorities will be accountable to both the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency.
And all of these new quangos will have a role in FE, adding to the staggering 17 bodies (!) identified by the Foster report. The last Conservative Government incorporated FE colleges, freeing them from local authority control. Not only has the current Government failed to bring forward the Foster agenda of less central control and self regulation but it is now consulting on restoring local authority control of FE through a commissioning function.
All this marks the final nail in the coffin of the much heralded Leitch Review of Skills. Leitch’s key recommendation was that the Government should move from supply-side planning to demand-led skills training. Lord Leitch concluded that ‘history tells us supply-side planning of this sort cannot effectively meet the needs of employers, individuals and the economy. The review recommends a fully demand-led approach, with an end to this supply-side planning of provision.’ Consequently Leitch recommended that ‘planning bodies, such as the LSC… will require further significant streamlining.
In fact, the latest changes re-enforce supply-side planning. As the Government’s Apprenticeship Review sets out, The National Apprenticeship Service will be responsible for the ‘achievement of the targets set by Government. This includes determining and publishing the strategy for expanding places by region, sector and age-group consistent with the Government’s published national plans.’ So much for a demand-led system.
Conservatives understand that employers must take the lead in the apprenticeship system if we are to raise skills levels, but Government has a vital role to play in ensuring that all training enhances employability, the true test of any vocational learning. With respect to Government’s proposal that employers, such as McDonalds, should be entitled to accredit qualifications, while I welcome moves towards qualifications that respond to the needs of business, they must, above all, reflect the needs of learners. The great danger in allowing all kinds of employers to accredit their own qualifications is that they will not be recognised elsewhere, limiting the possibility of career advancement or progression to higher study. For employer schemes to be valued their rigour must be attested through independent assessment and accreditation, guaranteeing to learners that they are the equal of other qualifications at the same level, if not they may become an unvalued ‘Maccalaureate’
John Hayes MP, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education

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