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Bichard unfair to LSC

I find it extraordinary that Sir Michael Bichard thinks that the Learning and Skills Council "is not treating seriously or equitably" disadvantaged teenagers, thereby "worsening social inequalities" (FE Focus, March 10).

The LSC is dedicated to putting the learners' interests at our heart. Our very purpose is to change young people's lives through learning, to give all young people opportunities to build their knowledge and skills, to help them to lead richer lives.

Working with local authorities, colleges, schools and training providers up and down the land, we have enabled more young people to participate - and achieve - in learning. We now have 1.3 million young people in learning - more than ever before - and a much greater proportion of them have achieved a level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualification by the age of 19. We have been so successful that we have met the Government's target for this a year early.

The supplement in The TES last week gave many examples of the LSC's progress in delivering the 14-19 reform agenda. These include innovative programmes for 14 to 16-year-olds aimed at exciting their interest in education through offering practical and applied learning. And 90 per cent of pupils on increased flexibility programmes have chosen to continue their learning.

The LSC is also giving financial support to young learners, which is having a marked impact on their choices and achievements. These include the hugely successful education maintenance allowance, Care to Learn - which helps young parents to continue their studies - and the learner support fund, which provides help with travel and equipment.

We also need increasingly flexible and imaginative provision for those young people who have rapidly changing and unstructured lifestyles. Using European Social Fund cash and local flexibilities, the LSC supports a wide range of programmes through the voluntary and community sector, colleges and training providers.

As a result, while overall growth in the numbers of young people in learning was more than 2 per cent last year, it was more than 4 per cent at level 1 and foundation level.

Finally, Sir Michael's views on apprenticeships are unfounded. The move to offer "full framework" apprenticeships rather than national vocational qualifications alone - agreed by the DfES when Sir Michael was there - is driven by the need to ensure that young people develop the full range of skills to become valuable employees and cope with the demands of a more flexible and rapidly changing job market. Surely improving completion rates hardly "disadvantage" young people - they deserve the best.

Melanie Hunt

National director of learning


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