Beware of tail that wags the dog

13th June 2008 at 01:00
Your article "Employers duck skills costs" (FE Focus, May 16) picks up on a fact many in further education have been aware of for some time - that a significant proportion of Train to Gain funding is being taken up by employers who previously would have paid for the training themselves

Your article "Employers duck skills costs" (FE Focus, May 16) picks up on a fact many in further education have been aware of for some time - that a significant proportion of Train to Gain funding is being taken up by employers who previously would have paid for the training themselves.

The scheme has benefited some employers, but dire consequences are now appearing. In creating this pound;500 million-plus (soon to be pound;1 billion-plus) scheme, funding has been slashed for shorter courses. It is well-known that there are now more than a million fewer adults in education and training than a couple of years ago. Of course, this figure includes many on so-called "leisure" courses, which some consider to be less worthy of funding.

However, increasingly the tail is wagging the dog as the supply of courses is distorted by Train to Gain. FE managers are making understandable, but mistaken, decisions to offer only those vocational qualifications that are considered to be a full level 2 and therefore eligible for Train to Gain funding. The trouble is that many small businesses are not accessing the programme, so insufficient numbers of learners are being recruited to balance the books.

The consequences for the skills needs of the economy are alarming. Many courses are no longer being offered from September this year. Short, flexible and often unit-based courses are being cut, yet these are the ones that previous research has shown are often required by employers and which deliver the specific skills needed.

We are facing a huge hole, which needs to be filled quickly. One-size, full level two qualifications (such as NVQs) do not fit all needs. They are also unnecessarily expensive (for the taxpayer) when shorter qualifications are available, fit for purpose but regrettably being cut from prospectuses.

Malcolm Trotter Chief executive, International Associations of Book- keepers.

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