New waves yet to display their style

5th September 2003 at 01:00
We have a busy autumn in prospect as waves of policy initiatives come on board. One example is local authorities that maintain discrete adult education services: the Learning and Skills Act funding guarantee is coming to an end, and the move to formula-funded budgets will necessitate adjustments.

Last year's Success for All strategy was welcomed for focusing on the learner, though some of its measures are yet to affect LEA services. It is a little early for the backwash of this summer's skills strategy, but intentions are clear. Budgets for adult education, for personal and community development, will be secured, but there is an intention to redistribute towards the poorest areas.

What will this mean for less affluent pensioners studying in middle England? Will local providers concentrate more on "first steps" courses, which are linked to the progression routes the strategy encourages? Or to a significantly higher fees recovery policy? Providers will await the detailed proposals with concern.

LEAs will also be looking for the roll out of the Learning and Skills Council information and communications technology strategy. They will want to learn the lessons of the early round of inspections of adult education services - to strengthen quality assurance processes and make the case to the Adult Learning Inspectorate for inspections fit for purpose. Like everyone else in post-school education they will hope to speed up moves towards a sector skills council for lifelong learning. They will want more details on occupational competences and training and development needs of staff in this diverse sector.

People working with adult learners have parallel concerns. How quickly will the Learning and Skills Council move to a coherent planning mechanism for adult learning that recognises that other college provision may enrich communities and create the network of progression routes that will make the achievement of the strategy's key goals possible? What will the entitlement to free study offered to adults without a first level 2 qualification mean for institutions' budgets and curriculum focus? How soon will new arrangements for credit, and distinct adult assessment regimes be available? Ken Boston's arrival at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority brought a change in thinking. But is everyone in the QCA converted yet? The key to successful policy change will be in the detail.

It is encouraging that the Learning and Skills Council is establishing a high-level committee to focus on credit.

Other LSC developments should impact on practice everywhere. The widening participation strategy has taken time to evolve, but must renew focus on the role the system has in contesting disadvantage and exclusion. The college sector has many proud stories to tell in this work: however there is still a long way to go before Helena Kennedy's vision of widening participation becomes embedded in the system. Meanwhile, a head of steam is building around the Higher Education Funding Council for England's widening participation work - much of it likely to affect colleges working with younger adults at the FE-HE interface.

Shirley Cramer of the national council is leading a new, if overdue, look at how the LSC relates to the voluntary and community sector. This should help the widening participation strategy, of course, since many voluntary and community organisations have the confidence of communities currently under-represented in the system. Her committee will need, urgently, to sort out effective arrangements for national voluntary bodies, and to improve the dialogue between funders and the sector.

There are exciting practices to map - not least Birmingham and Solihull LSC's initiative to link colleges and voluntary bodies, to share good practice on quality enhancement, and to try to recruit a more diverse workforce.

Business as usual then - masses to react to and more coming over the horizon. But will it all be coherent? And will adults be better served as a result? Let's hope so.

Alan Tuckett is director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education

Send Viewpoints and Letters to FE Focus letters page, TES Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London EC1 1BX

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