THE Government was accused by the CBI this week of rushing off madly in the wrong direction in its review of post-16 education and training.
The employers' body is deeply suspicious of a radical shake-up of the present system and wants an evolutionary approach based on the training and enterprise councils and not the local lifelong learning partnerships.
CBI director-general Adair Turner warns the Government that they cannot take business support for granted. He fears that replacing TECs with lifelong learning partnerships would reduce the scope for employers to take an active role at local level. "Reform will only add value if it builds on the achievement of the TECs," he says.
The CBI says that education and training at this level must be demand-led rather than dominated by provider interests. This means that a new national funding body "must make sure that funds follow the learner and allow access to funding for any new provider that can meet the high-quality standards". Individuals must be able to choose the options that suit them best, backed by employer-led action to help match what is provided to local skill needs.
The CBI concedes that TEC performance has been patchy but it believes that they have secured a high level of employer involvement, implementing Modern Apprenticeships and Investors in People schemes. "Ill-considered reform of TECs would jeopardise the involvement of employers in these and other programmes. If TECs were abolished, it would not only waste 10 years of investment but be seen as a clear message that this public-private partnership was not valued," it says.
The CBI is uneasy about the Government's decision to restrict employer representation on governing bodies. Colleges should meet the demands of local industry and the needs of individuals. "Any reform must build on the principle of leadership by demand from individuals and employers, rather than undermine it," says the CBI. Local lifelong learning partnerships are not up to this role, because they are not based on the demand-led principle. They are groups mainly of providers, set up to discuss and collaborate on provision, in the CBI view, and they judge them not to be "a sound vehicle" for achieving more coherence between education and training strategy and funding.
At national level, the CBI wants a body that would set a tariff for various programmes and the special needs of learners, but should not try to plan, manage or influence local provision. "National policy must not attempt to second-guess the needs of the labour market or the choices of young people with some kind of national manpower plan, which on past experience would be restrictive and ineffective."
That is why the CBI is withholding its support from the whole review exercise and insists that more consultation is needed. A Green Paper, rather than the expected White Paper, should be the next stage of the review, says the CBI.