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Plea for billions to fund post-16

LSC chief calls for unanimous support to bring UK system into world's top 10. George Low reports

The post-school education and training system needs an extra pound;2 billion a year until 2010 in order to get into the top 10 in the international league tables, John Harwood, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, said this week.

Speaking at the midsummer conference of the new LSC sector in London, Mr Harwood appealed for unanimous support from schools, colleges and industrial trainers to persuade the Government of the need for the pound;16bn investment in both teachers and buildings over the next eight years.

Whatever the outcome of the current three-year spending review, Mr Harwood told the conference, organised by the Learning and Skills Development Agency, that an extra 300,000 places would be needed in the 16 to 18 sector.

This would cost pound;1bn and have a knock-on effect on adult education and training. "We are not paying an economic price for the system at the moment," he said, "and we are determined to get convergence of funding between schools, colleges and work-based providers."

He was also seeking money to improve lecturers' pay and put it on a par with the schools.

He said: "I am deeply worried that the average salary of teachers has declined from 130 per cent of the national average wage in the past four to five years. The status of teaching has deteriorated and eroded in my lifetime and we are certainly not paying the going rate at the moment," he said.

The LSC was setting new targets for quality of courses and consumer satisfaction, he said. Standards of buildings and equipment were damaging staying-on rates at 17 which were among the worst in the industrialised world. They were deterring adults from taking further education and training courses.

"When you see what these institutions and agencies look like when you visit them, it makes you a passionate advocate of more capital investment - in plant and the means of production - to bring standards up to other sectors of the economy."

Analysing the quality of courses in different post-16 institutions, Mr Harwood was struck by how poorly work-based training had fared in comparison to schools and colleges. The sector has just undergone its first year of the Office for Standards in Education inspections.

But the reality was more complex: all types of institution did some things well, and there was a wide scatter of grades, although in sixth forms and sixth-form colleges there were more courses awarded the top two grades (1 and 2).

The average grade for all subjects in general FE colleges was 2.6, while the average for sixth-form colleges was 2.1, just slightly lower than that for sixth forms (2.0). Work-based training providers scored an average of 3.3 with 40 per cent of them gaining poor or very poor 4s and 5s.

Because of the spread of grades within types of institution, the LSC was now pragmatic in its approach to funding courses and did not favour any particular sector.

The general FE college grades were "pretty good", according to Mr Harwood, but he thought the main challenge was to improve standards in the work-based agencies.

For this reason the LSCs would look carefully at each institution's grades when deciding funding allocations.

"What these grades show is that there is no specific sector that can be recognised as clearly superior to the others," said Mr Harwood.

On exams, Mr Harwood was struck by the lack of impact much post-16 education and training had in terms of skills and qualifications acquired. The high levels of participation after the age of 18 was not matched by skills in the workforce and population, which were some of the lowest in the OECD countries.

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