Colleges and trainers fear unfavourable council bias

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Providers believe local authorities prefer sixth forms and 14-19 academies, poll reveals

Colleges and training providers have accused local authorities of showing bias against them in favour of school sixth forms and 14-19 academies.

A third of colleges and two fifths of independent providers are worried that their local authority is not "provider neutral", according to a survey carried out by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Association of Learning Providers (ALP).

More than two fifths of colleges and almost a third of independent providers said they had evidence of local authorities' planning intentions that caused them concern, according to the survey, which drew 136 responses.

Respondents gave examples of bias that, according to the report, included "significant concerns" over expansion of sixth-form places in schools, the safeguarding of "non-viable" small sixth forms and fears over "done deals" on 14-19 academies despite objections from colleges.

The survey also revealed "inadvertent or deliberate" exclusion of colleges from meetings, area prospectuses and conversations at regional level.

A quarter of colleges and half of independent providers were worried that their local authority lacked knowledge of their respective sectors and how they work, according to the survey. The poll was carried out in late May, nearly two months after the Learning and Skills Council was abolished and local authorities became responsible for commissioning and funding all 16- 19 education.

A spokesman for the AoC said the survey showed that, while colleges and local authorities' relationships were improving, there was a need for a national funding stream for young people.

"AoC does need to continue to apply pressure in a number of areas, most notably over planning intentions, the expansion of sixth-form places and the formation of academies," the spokesman said.

An ALP spokesman said: "The survey reflects a deep concern that independent learning providers are not understood by local authorities when they can make a real difference in addressing the issue of people not in employment, education or training."

He said that the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 422 English and Welsh authorities, recognised the legitimacy of the concerns. The ALP and LGA are running a series of workshops around the country in the autumn as part of the response to the concerns raised in the survey.

An LGA spokesperson said: "Councils are not complacent about the effort needed to make this system work as successfully as possible, but it is early days and their work as commissioners has barely begun."

The LGA confirmed it was working with both the AoC and ALP to address concerns and that providers should raise issues with their local council in the first instance.

- Editorial, page 6

25% - Proportion of colleges that are worried their local authority lacks knowledge of their sector.

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