DAVID Blunkett's announcement of a pound;600 million budget increase for the Learning and Skills Council in 2001-02 is a sign of how serious the Government is about post-16 reforms.
As reported in FE Focus last week, 9 per cent has been added to the council's budget, 6.5 per cent in real terms. The increase takes the total learning and skills budget to pound;5.5 billion and confirms the LSC as the United Kingdom's biggest quango. The percentage growth is bigger than any that the Further Education Funding Council had in the 1990s and is as large as the percentage rise in the National Health Service budget this year.
Like the NHS, the money is there to meet demand. The four main aims will be increased participation by 16 to 18-year-olds and adults, a system that delivers higher standards, and direct economic benefits.
Working out how the pound;600m fits in with overall spending is difficult because there have already been several announcements about the 2001-02 budget. These gave lower figures confined to narrower parts of the budget.
Last November, lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks said that the FE budget would grow by pound;365m in 2001-02. In July, the comprehensive spending review increased this to pound;423m. Now, with less than four months to go, the Department for Education and Employment has completed its spending calculations for the entire learning and skills sector and has arrived at the pound;600m figure. This will be divied between FE, training and adult education.
Budget details will be available in a week or two - possibly at the Association of Colleges conference next Tuesday.
Ministers have set out some early priorities, including basic skills for adults and teaching qualifications for lecturers. Basic skills funding is due to increase by pound;150m in the next two years, while pound;80m will be set aside in 2001-02 to ensure all full-time lecturers are fully qualified.
In the short term, new initiatives will sit alongside existing plans because the council will spend its first year ensuring a smooth transition. David Blunkett has said that year one is for consolidation, year two for change. The budgets for year one will be set by the old rules.
One of the FEFC's last acts in February 2001 will be to use the existing funding method to calculate 2001-02 budgets and to confirm them to colleges. This means there will be a degree of stability for colleges until August 2002.
The real differences will come in 2002-03. As David Blunkett said: "The planning work started now should take effect in allocations in 2002-03."
September 1, 2002 will be a big milestone for the reforms. There will be a new learning and skills funding system, a new data collection system, school sixth forms will be joining the sector, mergers and new structures will be implemented locally, Curriculum 2000 graduates will be starting in higher education and there will be new student support changes.
Julian Gravatt is finance director of the City Lit, London