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Enthusiasm cools on vouchers

A possible retreat from giving all 16-year-olds vouchers to buy their education and training is signalled in the new White Paper on competitiveness this week.

But a senior Employment Department source told The TES: "The issue is by no means dead." A campaign is going on within the Cabinet to have options to pilot as soon as possible. Ministers have become excited again about the possibilities.

Enthusiasm had been dampened by a disappointing report from the consultancy Coopers and Lybrand, hired by the Government to do a feasibility study. Its report angered Employment Secretary Michael Portillo, who is said to have found it "nebulous" and lacking in strategic detail.

The source said: "If he was in control, you would have them in next week. " The majority of the Cabinet is now behind the voucher idea, though Education Secretary Gillian Shephard is said to blow hot and cold.

Learning credits are backed by the CBI and were hailed in last year's White Paper as the way to introduce the rigour of the marketplace into post-16 education and training. In the latest paper, the ministers say: "The Government remains attracted to the principle of learning credits."

But the possibility of a big push to introduce them before the next general election is remote. Despite the Coopers and Lybrand report and other consultations, ministers say in the White Paper that they want more advice and "wouldwelcome views before deciding how best to develop the ideasfurther. "

They go on to accept that learning credits may not be necessary: "The (Coopers and Lybrand) report also suggests some measures, not involving a fully-fledged learning credits system, which might help the Government achieve its education and training policy objectives."

Such measures included increasing competition by cutting prices and "removing the structural rigidities that make it difficult for new providers to become established". Many of these are contained in the new White Paper.

The Coopers and Lybrand report analyses four broad models for learning credits but argues that there are more pressing concerns, such as the impact of different teaching styles on learning and the influence of careers advice.

* Extra cash was announced to support vocational education in schools. There will be a further Pounds 14 million next year to improve GNVQs, with a particular emphasis on teacher training. An additional Pounds 29 million was already announced for the current year in the 1994 Budget.

Headteachers will be disappointed that the White Paper flags up the Headlamp scheme, launched last year to help them develop management and leadership skills, but fails to say why its introduction has been delayed.

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