Colleges and councils make an uneasy pair

Alan Thomson

Colleges must have felt like 30-something divorcees moving back in with their parents when the Learning and Skills Council was scrapped and the role of planning and funding 16-19 education was handed to local authorities (page 1).

Having left home in their youth (colleges were freed from local authority control in 1993) they had wild time in the mid-Nineties, before becoming all mature and professional in the Noughties.

The trouble is that, according to the survey by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and Association of Learning Providers (ALP), many local authorities struggle to understand how far colleges have changed. Perhaps they fondly remember the day the local tech left its council home to make its way in the big post-incorporation world.

At least colleges knew what to expect on their return to the local authority fold: cluelessness about their professional role and the desire to park them back in their old room - metaphorically speaking.

Private and other independent training providers, however, must feel like they are suddenly plunged into conversation with the new family's eccentric - apologies to our older readers - grandma.

"And what do you do? Independent train rider? How lovely. Have you met my grandson? He works in Further Agitation."

The concerns raised in the AoC-ALP survey were highlighted long before local authorities inherited their new powers.

The Local Government Association (LGA), and in particular John Freeman, leader of the LGA's React programme, worked hard - with considerable success - to forge partnerships between local authorities and further education providers.

But from what colleges and independent providers report, there is still a long way to go. While ignorance of FE is bad enough, evidence indicating the deliberate exclusion of providers and a conscious pro-schools bias is alarming. The findings will confirm suspicions that behind the ignorance of FE lie the vested interests of local politics.

Can Government reform England's education and training system when under- 19 provision is entrusted to a system that might, for instance, preserve tiny school sixth forms at the expense of expanding more efficient, effective provision in FE?

Colleges, independent providers and the LGA deserve credit for working together to rectify these problems. But is this system of planning and funding worth fixing?

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus; E:

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