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Scottish fears for skills body

Plans for a pan-UK organisation could leave Scotland under-represented. Steve Hook reports

Scottish colleges feel trapped behind a "tartan curtain" under plans for a UK-wide lifelong learning sector skills council.

Negotiations to set up the new UK-wide organisation have run into sand since the Department for Education and Skills decided it must include sectors beyond the previous grouping of colleges, universities and private training companies, says the Association of Scottish Colleges.

The skills council is a DfES initiative and the governments of each of the four UK nations have the power to veto its creation. It would be responsible for qualifications and training across post-16 education and training.

Tom Kelly, chief executive of the ASC, says the expanded "footprint", covering five national training organisations and the Association of Learning Providers (ALP), could prove too great to allow the council to be formed by April next year, as was originally intended.

He believes the deadline would have been more realistic if the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO), the Higher Education Staff Development Agency and the ALP had been allowed to form the council on their own.

The other three training organisations - representing adult and community education, libraries and in-house-training - could have joined later, he argues.

He says Scotland's stand-alone status in the education system makes these representation problems even more acute.

He told FE Focus: "Expanding the skills council to include five NTOs and the ALP increases the difficulties of balancing the representation between different interests and jurisdictions.

"Things were well on track and we expected to move quickly at that point, if it had not been for the DfES changing the plans.

"We have our own teaching qualifications in Scotland and we are a separate jurisdiction. We are on the outside of the circle.

"Fento is the only UK body in which we have Scottish representation. For the most part, we are behind a tartan curtain. We have proceeded on the basis that Scottish involvement and shared ownership is integral and fundamental. As things stand, we are detached. This may have some benefit for colleges in Scotland but I'm not so sure."

The lifelong learning SSC will be responsible for training the trainers specified by the other skills councils - across the whole range of employment.

Mr Kelly added: "It doesn't look too good if lifelong learning is the laggard - the lame duck at the back of the convoy."

"We are talking a different language. As things stand at the moment, nothing is guaranteed."

Jonathan Mackey, on secondment to the fledgling SSC from the DfES standards unit, said the Sector Skills Development Agency was concerned about a split appearing in lifelong learning and was reluctant to allow the sector to be represented by two separate skills councils.

He stressed that if the SSC included schools, as was originally intended, but the this would have made it "unmanageable".

But he added that if it was limited to FE, higher education and private training companies: "the skills development agency would say that's not big enough."

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