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Clarke to put extra millions on the table

A pledge of "significant new money" for further education will be made by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, at a national conference next week.

He will also unveil details of the five-year plan for a "more self-regulating and self-improving sector" when he addresses the London conference of the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

Sweeping changes will be outlined, including a rationalisation of the roles played by national and local agencies dealing with colleges and work-based training providers, including the Learning and Skills Council, Mr Clarke will also accept key proposals from Sir Andrew Foster, his bureaucracy tsar, to reduce further the "overwhelming burdens" of accountability and scrutiny providers face.

Sir Andrew, in a report to be published at the conference, says the demands on providers to account for their actions plus the level of scrutiny from inspectors, awarding bodies, the LSC and others, are out of all proportion to performance.

His report contains a series of proposals to make "intervention proportionate to risk and performance". He calls for a "lighter touch" for those who do well but a tough line on under-achievement. Mr Clarke will announce plans to act on Sir Andrew's recommendations.

New cash of up to pound;100 million was being considered as FE Focus went to press. The money would help with a range of increasing demands including record growth in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds staying in education and the costs of adult basic skills courses.

A Department for Education and Skills source said: "I do not think colleges will be disappointed. There will be significant new cash."

Mr Clarke knows that his department needs to do something to reassure colleges if his five-year plan is to win support. Government departments were asked to submit such plans to the Treasury in March and these will determine the long-term claims for cash.

At the LSDA conference, he will say the sector must "earn its autonomy" and that self-improvement cannot be imposed. He envisages the sector being self-regulating by the end of the five years.

He will stress that there cannot be a blank cheque and will outline a more intensive drive on quality and standards.

The concerns of Mr Clarke and Sir Andrew are shared by Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Cabinet Office has carried out a detailed study of the impact of Success for All. This will be discussed at the conference by Wendy Thomson, head of the office of public services reform at the Cabinet Office.

Her department found "too many organisations and initiatives trying to support colleges". She suggests that many improvement strategies would be better done locally. National agencies were important but there was a need to get the national and local balance right.

The role of inspections will also come under the spotlight in Mr Clarke's speech. The Cabinet Office found inspectors were "good at identifying strengths and weaknesses but less good at explaining how to improve standards".

While announcing plans to rationalise which agency does what, Mr Clarke will announce a central role for the LSDA as the leading agency for research, evaluation and development.

Chris Hughes, LSDA chief executive, said: "Better use of inspection results is urgently needed. There are two extreme views of what inspectors should do. Some say they should go in, report and shove off. Others say they should be an agent for improvement throughout. But there is a middle way.

The wider evidence on a range of inspections should provide an improvement strategy for others to design benchmarks and toolkits for excellence."

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