Legislation is like buses: you wait for one and then two come

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
this year colleges get their place on the Parliamentary bus. In nine years, the Government has tabled 10 Education Bills but most of these have covered schools and inspections. This year's Education Bill covers FE for the first time since 2000. Colleges have a ticket to Parliament and a chance to talk about their issues.

The central thrust of the FE and Training Bill is to change relationships inside Labour and those between its colleges. The Bill delegates powers from the Secretary of State, streamlines the Learning and Skills Council and gives it more powers over colleges.

If the Bill passes, the LSC will be able to order governors to dismiss a principal or senior manager.

Clause 17 gives the council the duty to intervene in cases where colleges fall below standard. No-one questions the need for intervention but this is a step too far.

However, the Bill has positive elements. One clause promotes choice and another two require more consultation with students and employers.

The Bill will make it legal for colleges to award their own foundation degrees. College validation will make it easier to engage effectively with employers.

The Privy Council and Quality Improvement Agency will decide which colleges get the new powers and which do not. The process will not be for the faint-hearted. The Privy Council office won Jeremy Paxman's University Challenge for professionals last year.

The main focus of the Bill is the Learning and Skills Council and the most important change is in clause 4. This makes it necessary for the LSC to comply with strategies drawn up by other organisations, starting with the London Skills and Employment Board.

In future, the Secretary of State could add new names to the list. Boards created in other cities or sector skills councils could be given the power to lead the LSC. This may sound like a small reform, but it is significant.

The Learning and Skills Act in 2000 designed a planning and funding council. Seven years later, the Bill confirms the LSC is a machine to deliver Labour money and policy. Some people who read the full Bill will be disappointed that it is not longer or more exciting. Be careful what you wish for. Laws are created to stop things going wrong and colleges are not short of rules.

If, as predicted, Lord Leitch recommends changes to free up the adult skills system, then another Bill could be needed next year. Legislation really is like buses: you wait for years for one to arrive and then two of them come along.

Julian Gravatt is director of funding and development at the AoC

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