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Blunkett unveils a vision of learning

AN EXTRA pound;600 million - a 9 per cent increase on current funding for post-16 education and training - was announced yesterday for the Learning and Skills Council.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, announced the funding at the first national conference of the LSC. From April it takes over the funding and planning of all post-16 education and training, outside higher education.

For 200203 there will be a further funding increase of pound;400million, a 5 per cent increase in real terms, said Mr Blunkett. There will be additional funding when the council takes over responsibility for school sixth forms.

Teenagers celebrating their 19th birthday could soon also be celebrating David Blunkett's new vision of lifelong learning.

He predicted that 19 may mark the end of formal education, but the start of an invigorating programme of adult education.

And he said in a guidance letter that the planning and funding of all post-compulsory learning below higher education would be integrated for the first time.

He wanted the LSC, with its 47 arms throughout the country, to secure a fundamental change change in learning and skills by March 2004.

There should be a significant increase in the number of young people staying on to study, increased demand by adults, improved skills among those of working age, and a big reduction in colleges or other providers offering only "satisfactory" provision.

He said it was the first time that a public body had had a statutory duty placed upon it to encourage learning. It was up to the council to keep this sense of purpose.

"But not all learning should lead to awards," he said. There had to be a balance between learningwhich leads to qualifications and that which does not. Many adults wanted to pursue high-quality and rigorous study for its own sake.

The council should be pro-active on issues of "unnecessary and unhealthy competition" between providers to achieve value for money and maximum benefit for learners.

His department would have an important role in funding and monitoring the delivery of teaching and training qualifications: "There are particular issues of recruitment, retention and reward which are specific to further education, and I hope to develop new arrangements which reward high-calibre lecturers."

In a dig at franchising, he said that lengthy supply chains in the delivery of education and training should be avoided. Even so, the council had to ensure the lead contractor retained responsibility.

The council had to be "rigorous in preventing fraud and the improper and inappropriate use of public funds, and prompt and thorough in tackling problems when they arise". There needed to be a suitable balance of funding, with individuals, employers and government all playing a part.

The LSC will handle planning and funding of all sixth forms, colleges and training up to higher education in England. It replaces the Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils.

John Harwood, the chief executive of the LSC, last week told college principals that the new structure would be interventionist.

He told the annual general meeting of the FEFC: "The first big change is the comprehensive nature of the new interventionist structure... It's a funding and planning and interventionist system, and I mean that in a collaborative and supportive way."

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