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FE Funding Body Call for Caution as Attitude to Vocational Training Remains “Disgrace”

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) have welcomed the Further Education White Paper published today as a significant step forward in the battle to drive forward the skills agenda for the UK.

The White Paper has seen a number of initiatives outlined that will transform the life chances of young people and have a positive impact upon the skills of the workforce. It calls for the FE system to focus its energies on the drive for skills for employment, which the LSC agree is the key to guaranteeing future British economic prosperity.

Specialisation to be Developed

The LSC will be called upon to take on new responsibilities and to develop existing roles in the months and years ahead. One example of this is the requirement for the LSC’s planning and funding powers to be targeted to better enhance areas of specialisation within FE providers, continuing their current practice of tailoring provision to the local environment and requirements. Specialisation will be further supported through capital funding, in particular to National Skills Academies, Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) and sector based networks.

One of the measures that caused the greatest consternation amongst some areas of FE, first mentioned in the Foster Review of FE Colleges in November, is the prospect of the private sector being brought in to replace the management teams in failing colleges. This has been confirmed in the White Paper, with the LSC being given powers of intervention to tackle failing and mediocre provision within the further education sector. This responsibility has been transferred from the Secretary of State’s office.

Overall, the White Paper has seen the focus turned upon creating a more learner and employer centred sector. One initiative that the LSC is keen to bring into action is the “Train to Gain” scheme that will be extended in September 2006 to enable employers in three pathfinder regions to gain access to trained and skilled workers at Level 4. Also, the new National Learner Panel is expected to contribute positively to the ability of learners to influence key policy.

A New FE Era

The Chairman of the LSC, Chris Banks, responded to the publication, saying: “The White Paper heralds the start of a new era for Further Education. It sets out a role and focus for the sector which sees it firmly positioned as the backbone of England’s economy. The LSC and the sector already have a proven record of success. This White Paper will help us all accelerate progress by allowing the expansion of excellent provision, encouraging new providers into the market and reducing poor provision, thereby providing greater choice and higher standards of learning for learners and employers.

“This is also a once in a generation opportunity to challenge the traditional stereotype of vocational training being “second-best”; and to demonstrate the economic and social rewards it brings,” Mr. Banks continued. “Vocational learning is critical to the success of individuals, businesses and communities across the country.”

The Chief Executive Mark Haysom said: “This White Paper takes on board the principles of the LSC’s agenda for change and heralds a real shift in the way FE is delivered. It provides a focus for the learning and skills sector as well as engagement with learners and employers. It will open up the market and allow excellent provision to be rewarded and poor provision to be cut out. This is good news for individuals and employers, for communities and the economy.

“It would be easy to assume that the White Paper is changing Further Education because something isn”t working,” he pointed out. “But nothing could be further from the truth. There are more people in learning than ever before ““ some 1.5 million of 16-18 year olds; more achieving than ever before as the LSC expects to exceed its 2006 targets one year early for the number of 19 year olds achieving Level 2. We”ve got more young people starting apprenticeships beating our target of 175,000. Further Education and those who provide it are perhaps one of this nation’s best kept secrets. The LSC will play a major role in delivering the White Paper which will help make the most of the talents and skills of people up and down the land.”

Jethro Marsh

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