Sectors back post-16 council

PLANS for a sector skills council covering all post-16 learning have received overwhelming support from further education colleges and universities.

Four out of five higher education institutions (83 per cent) support an SSC, and colleges strongly support the move, but slightly less enthusiasm has been shown by sixth-form colleges.

The backing came from a joint survey commissioned by the Further Education National Training Organisation and the Higher Education Staff Development Agency.

The survey found that a council for post-16 education and training would gain stronger support both from the Government and from within parts of the sector (particularly FE), than FE and HE alone. "The significance of just bringing FE and HE together in this way cannot be overestimated."

Although there is much willingness by the two sectors to form a joint body, there is also concern. "In FE the overriding concern is about being dominated and 'swamped' by HE.

"HE, on the other hand, while very pragmatic about joining with FE, is apprehensive about the potential loss of its distinctiveness... the fear is not of power, but of reducing difference to a commonality that loses focus."

There is less support from sixth-form colleges, than general FE colleges, as they see themselves as being much closer to schools. Those questioned in colleges thought the inclusion of private-training providers would be controversial.

"There was also a suggestion - often implicit - that the quality of private provision is lower than in FE, which would impact negatively on the sector."

The survey found very little support for FENTO in Scotland. "The repeated lack of sensitivity to Scottish issues, needs and differences, has given the impression of carelessness, so perpetuating a view of an English organisation, unconcerned about the other nations."

But there was less antipathy in other parts of the UK and strong support in Wales.

The functions of an SSC would include raising standards, studying labour market trends and identifying skills gaps.

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