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Inspection shake-up threatens standards;Further Education

STANDARDS at hundreds of vocational training providers could be jeopardised by the decision to centralise work-based inspection at the headquarters of the new Learning and Skills Council in Coventry.

The Oxford-based Training Standards Council is warning of a brain-drain of staff following the announcement last week that the Education and Training Inspectorate will be located with the new Coventry council.

The Government published plans to scrap the training council in the Learning to Succeed White Paper in June - just 18 months after it was set up. But staff hopes that the inspectorate might retain a presence in the city were dashed by the news that it would join the post-16 "super quango" on a site adjacent to the Further Education Funding Council's present headquarters.

Nicky Perry, one of the training council's director of inspections, said: "We have a pressing problem in that people will leave before our work is done. If people start moving out quickly we could be in a serious situation."

The training council would have difficulty recruiting replacements on short-term contracts in an area of very low unemployment, she added. "That could leave us in difficult circumstances."

David Sherlock, the council's chief executive, said that the move would mean people with specialist skills could be lost and that building a new inspectorate from scratch would be "a severe problem".

He added: "This looks like an opportunity lost to carry a winning team into the next phase of making the learning age succeed."

The council's network of 40 full-time and more than 200 part-time inspectors, who are spread around the country, are unlikely to be affected by the move. But the 35 staff at the Oxford offices, who work in small teams organising inspections, finance, information technology, statistics, human resources and editing reports, could find there is no equivalent job in the new inspectorate.

The training council was scheduled to carry out around 1,700 inspections in its first four-year cycle. It will now be phased out within three years and a question mark remains over its ability to fulfill the quota of approximately 600 inspections which it is expected to complete between now and April 2001.

A feasibility study of possible locations for the new inspectorate, carried out for the Department for Education and Employment by consultancy firm Capita, stressed the possible consequences of moving the work-based training inspectorate from its Oxford base.

Capita concluded that relocation to Coventry "may well pose a risk to the continuation of the TSC's inspection programme during transition with the loss of key skills in inspection support and IT".

The report added that the majority of training council staff are "not likely" to relocate to Coventry. The council's building still has 15 years to run on its lease and unless a new tenant is found, the DFEE faces a potential financial penalty of pound;3.5 million.

The council is currently involved in negotiations with the DFEE over possible incentives to persuade key staff to stay on. But Nicky Perry said: "There has to be a doubt as to whether, if a lot of people do leave, we will have the resources to complete the full cycle up until the 31 March 2001. It's in the lap of the gods."

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