A senior government adviser has challenged ministers over whether their proposed reforms to education for 14 to 19-year-olds can meet the needs of all students in further education and training.
In an article for FE Focus this week, Rob Wye, strategy director for the Learning and Skills Council, says the new white paper does too little to help the least able.
As the right-hand man to Mark Haysom, the council's chief executive, Mr Wye's comments are a serious challenge to ministers.
It is the second time in three weeks that a senior LSC figure has taken such an independent line. Last month, Chris Banks, LSC chairman, took the chief inspector of schools, David Bell, to task over claims that the number of failing colleges was "a national disgrace". Mr Banks also accused him of downplaying FE in his annual report.
"In fact, one could have been forgiven for failing to spot that the chief inspector even mentioned further education colleges," he said. "A sector like ours with 4 million learners and 400,000 lecturers deserves more than a passing reference."
Mr Wye's criticisms strike at the heart of government thinking after the disappointment over the decision by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, to keep A-levels outside the over-arching diploma proposed by Sir Mike Tomlinson.
"The white paper contains notable omissions," he says in the article for FE Focus. "What are the steps that keep teenagers who struggle to reach level 2 in learning? Are learners who want a true mix of vocational and academic study catered for? Has enough thought been given to progression routes from vocational study into higher education? There are also questions about how much the proposals will cost and how funding will be allocated."
Mr Wye goes on to predict that the LSC's "agenda for change" will remove many of the barriers to improving FE. He also warns people not to get hung up on the A-level question. "Now is not the time to be seduced by the academic vs vocational debate," he says.
His underlying comments indicate that the LSC is far from happy with the white paper as the last word on post-Tomlinson reform.
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