Huw Richards reports on Labour's education priorities from the Association of College Management conference
A REVAMPED careers service will be in the vanguard of the Government's campaign to combat social exclusion through the education system, a senior civil servant has said.
David Forrester, one of the Department for Education and Employment's board of directors, was speaking at last week's Association of College Management conference in Blackpool.
He stood in for Baroness Blackstone, education minister, who was detained in London to discuss the implications of the Lords' defiance of Government proposals for next year's European elections.
"The careers service is capable of reaching people that other sectors cannot - the aim is to reconnect people who are out of reach of the schools and colleges. They can't do it by themselves. They will need to work through intermediaries such as the Community Service Volunteers, the youth service and various mentoring groups.
"We also have to recognise that people who are brought back in this way are unlikely to be ready to go straight back into the classroom. We will need a network of outreach centres, halfway houses and a 'gateway' system of pre-vocational courses," said Mr Forrester. He said the Government expected to consult over these issues in the next few weeks.
He underlined the priority Labour will be giving to social exclusion. He said there were around 80,000 disaffected 16 and 17-year-olds who were inneither work nor training, with a similar number in dead-end jobs.
The Government, he announced, intended to implement its Right to Study, guaranteeing time off from work for training, in autumn 1999 as one of the key elements in its Investing in Young People strategy. "Further education can and will play a major part in this," he said.
Mr Forrester, who according to one delegate used the word "target" 12 times during his speech, put the National Learning Targets at the centre of Government plans for encouraging colleges back towards collaboration rather than pure market orientation.
He said the Government would be hoping to establish local strategic partnerships, which would translate national targets into meaningful local objectives, during 1999, and that "sensible collaborative planning" should become the norm for colleges.
"What some people would call cartels, I would describe as sensible arrangements for deciding who is best placed to do what."
Colleges will be expected to recognise that their prime functions are local rather than national or international: "We expect them to reassess their strategy. This doesn't mean we want to stop them working abroad or in other parts of the country, but we would expect them to consult with colleges in that locality."
He underlined the Government's renewed interest in mergers, saying this would be formally signalled in the Secretary of State's advice to the Further Education Funding Council.
He said ministers had been impressed by evidence in research conducted for the FEFC by consultants KPMG which suggested that while past mergers had taken place for defensive, financial reasons, there was now greater emphasis on the educational advantages.
He said that David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, did not wish to impose any single pattern of organisation, least of all the one over which he once presided as leader of Sheffield City Council: "There is a sense he and we have that . . . there will be benefits in having fewer, stronger institutions and that this will provide a more effective service for the community."
He pointed to a similarly local-based approach to organising 16 to 19 provision: "There will inevitably be a mixed range of solutions, reflecting the variety of local set-ups. We will be asking institutions to consider how they can work best in partnership to attain learning target goals."