City amp; Guilds says central targets on meeting employers' needs are strangling local creativity
Politicians are being urged to loosen their grip on further education and set colleges free to respond as they see fit to local employers' needs.
City amp; Guilds is writing to the major political parties with fresh proposals aimed at placing more trust in colleges to be the best arbiter of the needs of the real economy.
In an attack on the centrally planned targets that dictate FE funding, City amp; Guilds says too much intervention from policy-makers is strangling colleges' creativity. It says colleges should be freed from having to operate within targets imposed via the Learning and Skills Council.
Matilda Gosling, senior research and policy manager at City amp; Guilds' Centre for Skills Development, said the proposals offer fresh ideas as the Government faces a stalled economy.
The awarding body said it aims to impress the other political parties with its vision for the future of FE in order to stimulate debate about the role of colleges.
Ms Gosling said: "(Gordon) Brown could readily claim that many of the events he has to battle with at the moment - the credit crunch and soaring oil prices, to name but two - are at the root of his present difficulties.
"Perhaps so. There are, however, some factors within his control that could help him. In particular, we believe that basic changes to his skills policies could help him towards achieving his long-standing personal goal of eradicating poverty and maintaining social justice."
The main focus of the proposals is to re-establish colleges in their traditional role as local organisations responding to local needs.
One existing policy aimed at achieving local responsiveness is Train to Gain - the scheme by which employers can have skills training needs met through brokers who put them in touch with colleges and other providers of subsidised courses.
But City amp; Guilds sees this as too limited and says colleges should be allowed to form more sophisticated judgements about supply and demand. In some areas, it says, wages are artificially high because too few people are skilled in a particular trade, while in others too many are trained, the job market is flooded and students face a future in low-paid employment.
Ms Gosling criticised the sector skills councils, the bodies set up to identify the skills needs of each sector of industry. She said they had been asked to predict industries' skills needs, but a lack of tried and tested techniques and a "pointless" national focus were not helping. "Skills forecasting must be local or regional for it to be truly effective," she said.
David Collins, president of the Association of Colleges, said: "The pendulum has perhaps swung too far in the direction of employers, against the interests of individuals who may want to take short courses with the intention of a change of direction in their career."
Leading article, page 4.