Empires topple;Leading Article;Opinion

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
This week's White Paper represents a real watershed in Government thinking, and could prove as significant for the post-16 sector as the 1944 Education Act was for secondary education.

Half a century ago, a key issue was the need to jack up the levels of technical education on which a post-war economy would depend. The anxiety as we approach the third millennium is over levels of skills and understanding among early school leavers, the socially excluded, and workers whose qualifications are of A-level standard and below. Failure at this level will mean economic failure in the global markets which depend on information and communication technologies.

The biggest lesson of the past 20 years is that such issues cannot be left to an unfettered market place. Competition and growth-at-all-costs must be tempered by co-operation and regulation. Corruption, incompetence and mismanagement in colleges and training and enterprise council programmes have recently been all too visible.

Above all, taxpayers' money should follow coherent education and training programmes that are of proven quality, are cost-effective and fit in with the overall national strategy. That is David Blunkett's aim in creating a single post-16 sector (excluding higher education) presided over by a Learning and Skills Council for England and a network of up to 50 local councils.

There will be cries of alarm as empires topple: Training and enterprise councils will go; colleges will be reined-in; local authorities will lose some powers to the new network of councils. Local partnerships will rule - no partners, no state cash. But Mr Blunkett is unlikely to lose much sleep over such matters. Where he could come unstuck is in convincing the Treasury to pump in even more cash than the pound;1 billion pledged last autumn, and in some of the detail. For example, there is a strong smell of freshly-made fudge surrounding the plans for equal funding for school sixth-forms and colleges.

Most worrying, though, is the fact that local discretionary powers will still leave the crucial but much-eroded community and youth services in a vulnerable state. Successive Tory governments scandalously neglected these services, and the young people they serve; Blunkett's task is to ensure that this week's proposals succeed in stopping the rot.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today