Countdown to the FE revolution

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
Furniature for the Learning and Skills Council offices should arrive in December. A website says so. An early Christmas present for the council's new local and national staff. But December is also when staff in organisations affected by the upheaval will learn what's in store for them.

Visit you will find a monthly programme of transition from the Further Education Funding Council to LSC - 75 pages of it. But, for busy college managers and training providers, much of the new system remains a foreign land. Their priorities are simple: to make contact with the important people running things - above all, the 47 local LSC executive directors. September saw the introduction of the commencement order enacting the council's powers, and October brought the first LSC funding circular. Overleaf, we print what's still to come.

Work-based learning providers could do worse than click on to, site of a weekly e-mail briefing by the Traning and Employment Network and the National Training Federation. 'Countdown to the LSC' is a helpful starting point, but hidden devils may yet lurk in the details.

Late September at Yeovil College and principal Richard Atkins has much to think about. But, this early in the academic year, his current preoccupations do not yet include D-day for the LSC, which is just over six months away. "My priorities are new students; the quality of their programmes; how it relates to the funding I've been offered," he says.

This could almost be construed as insouciance amid the revolution. But will the Learning and Skills Council be a revolution? College managers still don't know, and Mr Atkins' uncertainty is echoed by many. "There's stuff out in writing but you aren't going to know until it happens," he says. "Dealing with the people will be vital to understanding the culture."

Few colleges or learning providers have a timetable echoing that of the DfEE. It's not poor planning; merely that light has not been shed on many areas yet. And perhaps there is another reason. Many principals went through the mill with incorporation, and that really was an upheaval - they'll vouch for that. "I don't think any of us is particularly apprehensive about the LSC; we've had quite a lot thrown at us over the last few years," says Mr Atkins.

David Watkins, principal at Carshalton College, agrees. "FE is traditionally incredibly good at responding to anything thrown at it," he says. "Whatever it takes to survive, I am sure the vast majority of colleges will get their act together." He agrees that personal contact and building relationships will be vital. But colleges in his area waited longer than most for a glimpse of the face behind the policy: south London was among the last regions to appoint its LSC executive director.

Richard Atkins' pre-Christmas timetable for dealing with the LSC comes down almost to just one thing: a meeting with the local boss at the earliest possible opportunity. "Do they want more people to stay on in schools, or more people to take on apprenticeships? We need to have those discussions," he says.

"One of my main concerns is that the whole process doesn't become over- bureaucratic and complex. I would be dead against college mangers and lecturers having their time diverted." With his college lying on the cusp of Somerset and Dorset, he has demographic worries. "Before incorporation, there were quite different rules over student awards and grants," he says. "If those differences start coming back, it would be a nightmare here. The ultimate nightmare would be if the value of a unit became one thing in Somerset and another in Dorset."

Mr Atkins dreads the spectre of "assertive chiefs heading off in different directions". He regards the meeting of minds as the key to making the best of the new world and sets store by links with the principals of Somerset's five other FE colleges. "From 1993-1997, we didn't meet at all - it was a period of intense competition. We began two years ago, and those meetings have grown in importance. We will be looking for individual and collective meetings with the new local chief."

College principals will be anxious for clarity by early in the new year when it comes to submitting proposals for funding and courses. "I would hope for a steer about LSC priorities," he says. "It would be pointless us submitting a load of proposals and them saying this is what we wanted. They need to understand what's happening on the ground.

As April 1 draws nearer, bureaucratic demands on colleges are likely to intensify. Mr Atkins hopes he can avoid taking on more staff to deal with them. "We have quite a lot devoted to management information systems," he says. "I hope there will be a reasonably smooth transfer between what we are providing for the FEFC and what the LSC requirement is. My nightmare scenario is if the LSC says 'draw a line and start again'."

David Watkins says it is vital that colleges present the best possible image to the new regime. "I think that will become more important for us over the next three months," he says. "But we aren't working along a time line in the way we did before incorporation, where by various times you had to have in place a pay roll strategy, then a premises strategy."

Meanwhile the Adult Learning Inspectorate beckons, with personnel still being appointed as 'College Manager' goes to press. A new regime, a new man at the top; it could be another timebomb for some principals when the inspector calls.

Richard Atkins believes colleges due for inspection in 2001 will have to be extremely quick on their feet. "But I'm glad there will be more concentration on the educational and teaching processes and less on some of the cross-college issues such as governance," he says.

Away from FE, in a converted barn in the north Wiltshire countryside, Hugh Pitman, chairman of the Association of Learning Providers, is also reconciled to an element of wait and see as local personnel bed down. "There are a lot of decisions to be taken - to an extent it is policy on the hoof, as is inevitable," he says.

Pitman is also chairman and chief executive of JHP training, which is the 4th largest of about 2,500 work-based training firms in the UK. From November, a main preoccupation will be re-contracting, which will be managed by the soon-to-be-defunct Training and Enterprise Councils. "We are assured that it will all happen by the end of January," he says.

"We hope to have a vast improvement on the previous contracting round, which has gone on until about July each year. Because of the simplistic nature of the structure, that should be feasible. The advantage of the LSC is that we shall be running things on a logical basis and not have dozens of ways of doing things."

"From January, we will have a lot of things going on simultaneously. We need constantly to improve our systems and procedures. We want to increase our links with colleges and, above all, links with employers. There is plenty of money now to do a really good job if it's spent wisely.

"With the ALP weekly bulletin, there is direct communication on the web about how things are developing - different subjects, consultations and deadlines are shown. We are also working at other forms of communication - not only with the DFEE but the DTI in the case of the small business service, with the spread of best practice. This is something from which providers and the people for whom they are responsible can benefit."

Behind the transition timetable, expect much jockeying for positions. There are already concerns within FE about the so-called TEC-over of LSCs. A paper timetable can only hint at convulsions beneath the surface.

Learning and Skills Council: 100 days to go. A two-day conference at Congress Centre, London WC1. Organised by the Training and Employment Network. Tel: 020 7582 7275. Full details on 2000


* Chief Inspectors at Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate agree

draft inspection framework and issue it for formal statutory consultation

* Sept through to March 2001 Learning and Skills Council starts operation

in parallel with existing bodies such as the FEFC and training and

enterprise councils

* Staff development programme begins for those appointed from existing



* First Learning and Skills Council funding circular

* Members of national LSC announced

* Council members' code of conduct issued

* Offices for local skills councils ready for dual running or

temporary premises identified

* Regional briefings for work-based learning providers


* Names of local skills council members to be announced

* LSC issues budgets to local councils for 2001-2002

* LSC guidelines on funding criteria issued for suppliers of education and


* DFEE publishes LSC remit letter, annual letter of guidance and a

framework document that sets out LSC's powers and parameters

* Invitations to tender for contracts issued to work-based learning

providers, which will make clear how much money is available

* First meeting of Adult Learning Inspectorate Board

* Regional managers for small business service appointed

* Training of LSC staff and ALI inspectors begins

* Announcements on funding and guidance for schools on Connexions, the new

careers service for13 to19-year-olds

* Local authorities to submit plans for adult and community learning for

2001-2002 to DFEE

* LSC to send letter to work-based training providers indicating funding

allocation for 2001-02


* Staff in relevant organisations will know how the changes affect them and

what their position will be in April 2001

* LSC to issue letter of intent to providers, indicating funding for


* Members of the Young People's and Adult Learning Committees announced.

The former advises LSC on exam targets, the latter on raising attainment

and widening participation

* LSC to have computer system linking national and 47 local offices ready

* Two-day conference (December 14-15) hosted by Training and Employment

Network, the National Training Federation and the Association of Learning

Providers to discuss LSC



* LSC and ALI to complete staff appointments

* Common inspection framework finalised and published. ALI to operate in

parallel with existing bodies

* DFEE to issue regulations and guidance to schools, colleges, local

authorities on 16-19 planning for 2001-2002

* 'Raising Standards' published (on progress towards national


* Unit for liaison with large employers to be established

* LSC interim strategic statement and first year operational plan published

* Detailed agreements on local delivery of small business services to be


* TEC arrangements in place for transfer of pre-16 work experience and

placements for teachers

* New payment procedures for post - 16 start in each Employment Service

region. Move away from competitive tendering will aim to give more emphasis

on quality

* January to March : LSC to negotiate funding allocations, and sign

contracts with providers for 2001- 2002


* LSC to issue code of conduct for its staff


* Formal ending of the FEFC

* Transfer of data to LSC from existing organisations to be completed

* LSC to complete staff appointments

* New administrative systems to be operational and staff trained in their



* Commencement order enacting LSC's main duties

* Monitoring and evaluation systems for training in

2001 - 02 go live

* LSC assumes most, if not all, functions

* Work-based training providers' contracts start

* Transfer of inspection responsibilities of FEFC and TSC to Ofsted or ALI,

as appropriate

* Connexions careers service begins

* LSC assumes responsibility for adult and community learning



* The LSC will begin to fund LEAs for their schools' sixth-form provision.


* DFEE to introduce information business system for all LSC- funded

provision, which carries all data needed for funding and monitoring -

effectively giving the council and Whitehall the means to identify where

money is being spent and on what

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