Blunkett's revolution;FE Focus

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
Harvey McGavin and Ngaio Crequer report on the White Paper heralding the biggest shake-upin FE in almost50 years

THE biggest revolution in post-16 education and training since the end of World War Two was unveiled this week by Education Secretary David Blunkett.

The White Paper, Learning to Succeed, abolishes the Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils, creating a national Learning and Skills Council, and 40-50 local "arms". (See page 41) Reforms will save pound;50 million a year on bureaucracy - to be ploughed back into learning opportunities, Mr Blunkett said. "The present system is bedevilled by a Soviet-style wholesale distribution network where contractors take a cut at each stage before learners actually get the resources to do the job."

The Office for Standards in Education is to be given hugely enhanced powers - taking over the FEFC 16-19 college inspection role. The move, which spells the end of the FEFC inspectorate, will be seen as a vote of confidence for chief schools inspector Chris Woodhead's standards-raising agenda.

At the launch of the White Paper, Mr Blunkett defended the controversial schools' inspectorate saying: "I do not believe Ofsted has lost credibility. It has brought rigour and focus across the school system."

A new, independent inspectorate will take charge of post-19 provision in colleges, adult and community education and some University for Industry provision. Work-based training for all age groups will also come under its scrutiny, signalling the demise of the Training Standards Council barely 18 months after it started.

The two bodies will work to a common framework and will be expected to organise joint inspections where appropriate. The streamlining of the current system will end the anomaly where some institutions have visits from six different inspection agencies.

The new arrangements, designed to create more "coherence and unity", will bring big changes to inspection timetables. Ofsted operates a six-yearly cycle in schools, the FEFC inspects colleges every four years, and local authority adult education is "hardly inspected at all".

Failing colleges are warned of tougher measures under a new quality improvement strategy. Mr Blunkett will establish a "capacity for intervention to be applied in inverse proportion to success", the White Paper says, with clear reference to the failure of the FEFC to intervene early enough at colleges such as Bilston and Halton.

Improving quality is "the central challenge" at all stages of education and training, the paper says. There is "too much poor practice among private training providers", and too many FE colleges show "significant curricular or managerial weaknesses". Everyone undertaking education and training should expect high and rising standards, it says. "It is unacceptable for performance to be a varied as it is."

Current inspections "do not help deliver the consistent and co-ordinated approaches ... necessary to drive forward our agenda of raising standards ...The case for integration and harmonisation is compelling."

The White Paper was largely welcomed in the sector. Britain's 70 National Training Organisations - who represent over 90 per cent of employers - were delighted with their new role working with Government on former TEC-funded projects.

"For the first time employers will get to influence and contribute to a much bigger canvas," said a spokesman. "They will be able to influence what is happening in the college classroom as well as the workplace."

David Melville, FEFC chief executive, said: "We had hoped to see a major reform of education and training for integrated solutions to the skills the country needs - this is what has been delivered."

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