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Critics censure training overhaul;Community and youth;FE Focus

Plans for a single national body have had a rough ride, reports Martin Whittaker

THE issue of training for youth and community education has become something of a hot potato. A consortium of organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has put forward proposals to the Government for a new national training organisation.

But the blueprint has had a tough reception and some in the sector now have doubts as to whether the new body will ever see the light of day.

The partnership which produced the proposals is said to have been an uneasy one and the plans have had to be rewritten.

The latest 69-page draft was submitted to ministers earlier this year, but the Department for Education and Employment has raised questions about the structure of the proposed body.

The consortium is called Paulo - named after Paulo Freire, a Roman Catholic Marxist and liberation philosopher who helped transform community education in Mexico.

Partners include the National Youth Agency, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Learning, Community Learning Scotland, the Wales Youth Agency and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland.

In April, Tom Wylie, chief executive of the NYA, spoke of the need to build up occupational standards and an agreed set of qualifications. "It is there to some extent but it is not robust," he said.

But some critics argue that this is a group of quangos trying to impose training standards from above in a sector wedded to a grassroots approach to training. They see the existing system, where employers, unions, managers and field workers jointly agree guidelines and endorse training proposals, as already effective.

Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers Union, said: "This was a sector that had a highly-developed equivalent of a national training organisation already. We don't need to waste money and reinvent wheels. The wheel we have is very cost-effective."

Furthermore, he said: "The main stakeholders in the field, the main organisations of the employers and staff, have had nothing to do with the formulation of this and are not party to it. They have no place and weren't even consulted about the final structure before it went in."

Alan Smith, chairman of the Community and Youth Work Training Agencies Group, said the consortium has at times been "a very uncomfortable marriage".

"As a profession we would always try and reflect a bottom-up approach," he said, with "the grassroots having a significant impact on developments. The whole development of Paulo has been top-down".

He said there were doubts whetherthe plans for a national training organisation would succeed. "I think there's a sense that it may not make it. It may not have done enough to identify what the sector is.

"I think we've got a problem if we're the only people who are not changing, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the direction from which it has been imposed. Had they been more open to discussion with the people who are delivering training, it may have gone a different way.

"Because we as a body meet regularly and there are endorsement processes that are externally monitored and managed, I think there has always been a sense that we're doing the best we can with what we've got - but we could do a bit better. But I think this has been quite a dramatic overhaul and not necessarily one that's been led from the source of the most knowledge."

Pat Ledwith, head of youth work training and regional development for the National Youth Agency, admitted that the Paulo proposals had had an "extremely difficult" ride. But she denied a lack of consultation and claims that they were reinventing the wheel.

"Certainly one of the things that Paulo will do is to build on the good practice that already exists. It is not going to invent new systems where perfectly adequate systems already exist. And that's clearly outlined in the bid.

"What we have at the moment is a small group of people working on behalf of the wider field to try and put it into place and set up the legal systems that are required. Once those are in place, wider membership will be sought.

"The whole training agenda for most occupations is changing. There are lots of developments around, and youth and community work needs to keep pace,"

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