Science training gets lost in an 11-quango maze

Steve Hook

A new report says a "regulatory maze" threatens to get in the way of effective development of further education's approach to science, engineering and technology.

The New Engineering Foundation (NEF) says science comes under the scope of 11 sector skills councils, each responsible for establishing training and development needs in their industry sector, and the sheer number hampers the promotion of science.

The weighty report - titled Preparing for the Future - says the imminent demise of the Learning and Skills Council, which funds post-16 education and training, makes the need for better- coordinated funding more urgent.

When the council disappears in 2010, science training - and FE in general - will fall under two quangos: the Young People's Learning Agency, for 16- 18; and the Skills Funding Agency, for 19-plus. Each will report to a separate government department.

The report says colleges fear there will be "greater chaos if the current structural and funding tangles are not properly dealt with by then".

The NEF surveyed 84 colleges in England and interviewed heads of science departments as well as a focus group which included policymakers and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Sa'ad Medhat, chief executive of the foundation, said: "A good start would be to centralise responsibility for science skills development with a multi-agency group that includes the regional development agencies, national skills academies and employer representatives.

The report says the Government's priority of increasing the number of people going on to higher education needs to be tempered with a new emphasis on science, engineering and technology and the applicable knowledge needed by employers.

The report says there needs to be a more sophisticated approach to matching provision with industry requirements. Simply asking employers what they want, based on their specific business needs, is not a wide enough approach.

It argues that there are dangers in planning vocational training to meet the demands of employers. While it doesn't argue with the principle behind this policy, the report says a more sophisticated understanding is needed of science, engineering and technology. The real needs of these industries are often misunderstood by policy-makers or "poorly articulated" - leading to unsuitable courses.

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Steve Hook

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