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Academies fail to meet launch target

With only 3,000 learners enrolled at some of them, 1m students by 2015 seems ambitious

The learning and Skills Council is pressing on with plans to develop enough national skills academies to support 1 million learners over five years, despite missing its first target.

A dozen of them - employer-led institutions intended to transform training in their industries - were supposed to be operational by the end of last year. But the total has only just reached 11 after the approval last week of the academy for materials, production and supply, covering industries from mineral processing to printing.

The LSC attributed the delay to the need to ensure all business plans were subjected to sufficient scrutiny. The council said that it expected 16 academies to be established by the end of this year or the beginning of 2010. They will be expected to support 1 million learners between 2010 and 2015.

Richard Marsh, director of employer-responsive learning at the council, said: "We put them through an intensive business-planning phase before they are allowed to proceed, and for some that has taken longer than expected."

The academies will get Pounds 180 million of capital funding and Pounds 120m of revenue funding from government, with industry expected to provide a further Pounds 50m. But the amount of sponsorship has varied dramatically, raising questions over the level of employer support.

When the programme started in 2006, the Government expected each academy to receive about Pounds 5m in sponsorship. Some have far outstripped this: construction has received Pounds 7.5m a year and hospitality got a Pounds 14m start.

But food and drink manufacturing has received just Pounds 1m in cash, along with donations of equipment and premises. Now, with the recession underway, the forthcoming power industry academy has been promised only Pounds 1.5m.

Mr Marsh said: "It is difficult getting money from employers during a recession, and academies aren't exempt from the economy."

There had been some concern over the Pounds 3.5m contribution of the financial services industry to its academy in the wake of the credit crunch, he said. Other funding sources were also being examined.

The target of 1 million students using the academies - through direct teaching, encouraging new training and development of qualifications - is also ambitious since some completed their first year with only 3,000 learners.

"Volumes are important, but so are other things they have done on quality improvement and reforming the system," Mr Marsh said.

The LSC believes the academies for construction, retail, IT and social care - each expected to serve up to 100,000 or more students - will ensure they meet the targets once they are up to full capacity.

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