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Just who are those guys?

To grizzled labourers at the chalk face, the Learning and Skills Council may be just another set of initials lurking in the educational shadows. But teachers at seven schools in the Carlisle area have recently been shocked to learn that, despite the current national moves towards a 14-19 curriculum, the LSC intends to close their sixth forms, and transfer all post-16 education to a sixth-form centre.

The heads of the schools concerned protest that the LSC's proposal, whatever its merits, is based on a flawed and inadequate needs analysis.

They say that, unlike local education authorities, the LSC, answerable to the Secretary of State alone, happily ignores local opinion and tries to wave aside alternative views.

Similar frustration is expressed by adult education centres, which find that the LSC expects their night-class teachers and students to jump through the same bureaucratic hoops as FE colleges. Senior citizens keen to enjoy, say, conversational French are confronted with learning agreements and pressured to work for formal qualifications they don't want.

Inexperienced adult learners have to negotiate a bewildering system of answer machines before they can discuss their needs with anyone because the LSC has insisted on centralising basic skills provision.

But the origin of these decisions seems shrouded in byzantine secrecy. The LSC's Cumbria website obligingly provides mugshots and CVs for the chair and chief executive, followed by a list of 13 names, with no further information as to why or how they come to be on the LSC. As Butch Cassidy, gazing back at the mysterious posse which was pursuing them to the edge of a ravine, repeatedly asked the Sundance Kid, "Just who are those guys?"

Andy Connell

11 Mill Hill



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