New laws take effect next week which promise to revolutionise post-16 education and training. At the heart of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 is a simple message: improve opportunities for all and drive up standards by getting people to collaborate and by giving everyone a fairer share of the resources. Quit the turf wars, the squabbles among school sixth forms, colleges and training organisations about the academic-vocational divide. Stop fighting over who does what and who gets the students and apprentices.
If only life were that easy. For colleges, it will simplify funding, directing cash through the Learning and Skills Council. For schools, it becomes more complex. Next year, local authorities hand control of sixth-form funding to the new post-16 council but keep responsibility for the 11 to 16s. Schools must therefore deal with many sources of cash: the multi-headed Standards Fund, LEAs, direct from Chancellor Gordon Brown and now the LSC.
OFSTED will add to the burden with up to 34 extra inspector days for schools with sixth-forms. Schools expected tougher scrutiny under the Act but not to ths degree. And the pressures are telling, witness the majority of heads at the SHA conference in Wales reporting staff off through stress-related illness and teacher shortages compounding the problems of key stage 3 reforms (page 11). And now we find that too many are failing the vocational A-levels that replaced GNVQs, raising the question, is it the standard or the style of these new exams that is too hard for the vocationally-inclined? David Blunkett set much store by them in the run-up to the Act. This does not spell failure for the Act but it is yet another hurdle on the path to success.
Launching the LSC this week, David Blunkett said: "For the first time, sixth-forms will be part of the planning process, which is part of the protection we are giving them. Anyone who says different is lying."
He - or his successor - has 12 months to get the funding and bureaucracy right, then things really start to happen. Otherwise, the first real effort to transform post-16 education will end up as yet another in a barrage of unwelcome initiatives - and Blunkett's words could return to haunt them.