NEW Labour has returned some of the rights the Conservatives removed for local authorities to run further education colleges.
Ministers have told councils they have a legal right to bid for greater control following arrangements introduced last month under the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
Advice was issued this week in response to plans from Ealing education authority to take over a failing college. In partnership with Thames Valley University and local industry, the authority is drafting a radical plan to turn Ealing Tertiary College into a US-style community college.
The proposal is one of five to be considered by the college governors and the local learning and skills council. It could test the legal limits of the new post-16 planning arrangements under the Act.
The local authority consulted the Department for Education and Employment after its legal advisers said the Act did allow for old powers to be restored.
This week Baroness Blackstone, eucation and employment minister, wrote to the authority to say that while she could not comment on the merits of individual cases, she expected such bids to be viewed seriously. "I am personally extremely keen that all the options are considered in a transparent and open way, including your Authority's proposal."
A spokesman for the DFEE said there is no suggestion of a return to the days when the local authorities were sole employers for FE:"This is not about looking back but looking forward."
However, Alan Parker, director of education for Ealing, said that the authority did not want to entirely run the college, only more planning powers. "We are talking about minimum changes to the legal framework, with a joint planning approach to benefit the whole community," he said.
Graham Lane, chair of education for the Local Government Association, said:
"There is an ambiguity in the law here which could be quite helpful to LEAs."
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