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A lot of talk... but no action

Steve Hook charts the tortuous progress towards a single UK-wide body to oversee training of staff in post-16 education

A SUMMIT to break the deadlock in the creation of a skills council for the post-16 education sector has finished with most of the major questions unanswered.

The two-day conference behind closed doors at Windsor Castle was the idea of Jonathan Mackey, of the Department for Education and Skills standards'

unit, who has been seconded to the fledgling council.

He told FE Focus: "There has been broad movement on a number of fronts and it has all been very positive."

But he said it had been decided to make no comment on what has been agreed at Windsor until a report has been typed up and agreed by the organisations represented. These include the four UK nations and the five national training organisations who are expected to merge to form the SSC.

The new body is expected to oversee qualifications and training standards across post-16 education, including colleges, universities and work-based learning.

But it remains unclear how the interests of groups presently served by smaller national training organisations will get a hearing alongside large bodies such as the Further Education National Training Organisation and the Higher Education Standards Development Agency. It is also not known how each of the four nations, which have a veto over the entire exercise, will be represented on the board.

It has not been decided whether the council should be a purely strategic operation or have an operational arm as well. Then there is the timetable.

If the SSC is to be formed by April next year, it must first be cleared by the Sector Skills Development Agency to get start-up funds.

But will the agency approve a body that has no shadow board, no chief executive, no chairman and no certainty about whether the organisations that are merging to form it can work together?

None of the participating organisations at Windsor was able to answer these questions.

Dan Taubman, national FE official at Natfhe, the lecturers' union, who is on the board of Fento, said: "Frankly, I'm pissed off. They have got to start achieving something if they are to have this in place by May.

"I think it is appalling that there has been no progress. The department could have given a clearer lead behind the scenes.

"The SSC is at the heart of the Government's skills strategy. We have already been saying at the TUC and other meetings that progress (towards forming the new body) is far too slow.

David Hunter, chief executive of FENTO, said: "This is probably one of the most difficult SSCs to establish, yet one of the most important. It is vital that we, together, proceed with urgency in this development. This Sector Skills Council is needed now not some time in the distant future."

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