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Call to end 'potty' FE funding divisions;FE focus

Government is urged to create centralised planning core and eliminate adult education anomalies. George Low writes

THE DIVISION of funding for adult education courses between colleges and local authorities should be scrapped, the Government will be told next week.

Instead, says the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, a new central planning council should hand out the cash to local authorities, colleges and voluntary bodies for community education and youth services.

NIACE director Alan Tuckett said the Government's 16-plus review was an ideal opportunity to get rid of the distinction created by the 1992 Higher and Further Education Act. The Act stipulated that courses leading to a qualification (Schedule 2) would receive Further Education Funding Council cash but leisure courses would not.

"It was always potty and led to local councillors thinking they weren't responsible for community education any more. On the other side the Further Education Funding Council did not recognise it had a role in community education," Mr Tuckett said.

The authorities had still to be reminded that they had to ensure that a high standard of community education was provided. So they would still have a statutory duty placed on them for the youth service and adult education.

"We believe in the principle of subsidiarity - that decisions should be taken at the lowest level to meet local needs. That is why everybody should be able to apply for funding through their local lifelong learning partnerships."

Colin Flint, principal of Solihull College, said some education authorities such as his own were too small to provide a lifelong learning programme that had enough coherence and diversity. That was why local planning had to be done on a wider level below that of the new regional development agencies. He wanted a new system of courses based on credit accumulation and transfer for adult students.

But Mr Tuckett said NIACE wanted to keep the "synergy" with schools, libraries, leisure centres, youth and old people's services. "Our consultation tells us that people are willing to work with the lifelong learning partnerships for the next decade or so.

There was a widespread feeling at the conference that funding interests for 16 to 19 education and the skill needs of industry should not be allowed to dominate the new funding body. NIACE is demanding a separate subcommittee for community education.

There were also fears that education authorities might try to dominate local lifelong learning partnerships and dictate the membership and agenda. For example, the new unitary authority in Brighton had excluded the Friends Centre, a pioneering Quaker-run adult centre, from the local lifelong learning partnership.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association was meeting this week to consider its response. A spokesman said the association was prepared to consider special funding for community education through the new funding body provided there was adequate democratic representation at both national, regional and local level.

"We will be looking at the funding systems from the student point of view to ensure no types of student are disadvantaged. If that means an end to the Schedule 2 and non-Schedule distinction, so be it."

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