Councils criticise 'unnecessarily bureaucratic' White Paper;FE Focus
The general consensus is that the streamlining of all adult and further education bodies and unions into the Learning and Skills Council puts the learner at the centre of the system, while providing administrative and financial coherence.
But this is not the opinion of the Local Government Association, which feels that the new structure will be unnecessarily over-centralised and bureaucratic.
Julia Bennett of the LGA said: "This new structure will create eight layers of bureaucracy and it seems to deliver coherence to the learner at the expense of the structure, which is no good."
A further problem cited by the LGA is that there could be bureaucratic overload in areas such as Kent, which is a designated life-long learning partnership and one of the new 50 regional learning skills councils.
But it is the introduction of a new post-19 adult inspectorate in colleges and adult and community education working alongside the Office for Standards in Education in its expanded role for 16-19 inspections, which has caused the most consternation.
Unions and agencies have reacted strongly to the fact that the two inspectorates are expected to organise jointly.
John Brennan, of the Association of Colleges, said: "The division of inspectorates will be confusing. If the aim was to simplify inspection for colleges, to divide it between two agencies suggests more not less work.
"We need to know the kind of criteria they will use, because colleges are far more complex places than schools and are vocationally orientated. Students are voluntary and more mature and require different goal posts."
Alan Tuckett, of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, described the joint inspectorate as a "dog's breakfast". He added: "We need adult qualifications and adult criteria but not a division of inspectorates."
During the consultations, most advocated the creation of a single, independent, post-school inspectorate. This has fallen on deaf ears, they say. Now, in a class of 18-year-olds and adults, both inspectorates will be involved.
One of the other main thrusts of the White Paper is the introduction of a body of independent case workers or mentors for all 13 to 19-year-olds who are at risk of dropping out of or being excluded from education.
From September the service, called Connexions, will introduce a new support scheme to provide impartial advice on career opportunities and help with emotional problems.
The aim is to encourage these students to remain in education until 19, but it remains very unclear precisely who these mentors will be or how they will be trained.
Anne Weinstock, head of Millennium Volunteers, believes that it could well provide a new role for volunteers. She said: "The White Paper highlighted the clear role of the voluntary sector in engaging the most disaffected in society. Volunteers could play a crucial role as mentors."
Another shortfall of the White Paper for NATFHE, the lecturers' union, is concern that the Government is not doing enough to provide an adequate career structure for trainers and lecturers.
Paul Mackney, the union's general secretary, said: "What this paper lacks is any commitment to re-professionalise the trainers and staff that already exist.
"In the past few years, 22,000 teachers out of 76,000 have either been made redundant or retired early. Now, 60 per cent of all part-time staff in FE don't have the proper qualifications."
The emphasis on inspection has been made at the cost of re-professionalising FE, he added.
Lord Ron Dearing, chairman of the University for Industry, said the Government's proposals would make learning customer driven, not provider driven.