Post-16 revolution;FE Focus;Exclusive

28th May 1999 at 01:00
Ngaio Crequer reveals the plans for training and education being considered by the Cabinet.

DAVID Blunkett is set to publish his White Paper which will revolutionise post-16 education and training on July 1. And he will do it in Birmingham at the annual conference of Britain's 76 training and enterprise councils - the bodies he wants to abolish.

Standing at his shoulder will be Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary whose department will take over the enterprise functions of the TECs.

A paper went to a Cabinet committee meeting yesterday which sketched out the model for the future delivery of all post-16 education and training, outside the universities. The emphasis is on an integrated policy across the sector and the changes involved are being seen as a once-and-for-all chance to end the divide between education and training. This is most clearly shown in the working title of the proposed over-arching funding body: the Learning and Skills Council.

There seems no intention merely to create a "super-Further Education and Funding Council". Ministers will stress that the new body, seeing off both the FEFC and the TECs, will be something new and exciting. Employers will be heavily represented. "It won't be a Manpower Services Commission mark two," said one source.

The budgets of the FEFC and the TECs would be amalgamated, and run alongside the enterprise agenda at the DTI. Mr Blunkett will stress the need to avoid bureaucracy and tackle the bad use of resources and there will be cross-fertilisation with the youth and careers services.

The new proposals will dovetail with the Government's Excellence in Cities, a three-year project to raise educational standards in the inner cities. Work-based training for adults will go to the Employment Service.

There will be a new inspectorate which will be independent of the council. The model most preferred is the school's inspectorate, the Office for Standards in Education. There has been some speculation that the only reason Mr Blunkett has defended chief inspector Chris Woodhead is because he wants him to run the new service. Nevertheless the inspectorate will not be heavy-handed but will concentrate on identifying good practice.

The White Paper is less definite on local arrangements. Regional Development Agencies are likely to have a strategic remit for local "arms" or councils. These would be employer-led although local education authorities would be brought in from the cold. The councils would have considerable discretion to put funding into areas where a particular need has been identified.

The White Paper discussed yesterday came to no firm conclusions on whether school sixth forms should be funded by the council. It suggested a number of options and pointed to the 12 per cent disparity in funding between sixth forms and FE colleges.

The logic of the new arrangements is that sixth forms should be included but Mr Blunkett is very well aware of the political problem of upsetting middle-class parents. The likely outcome is a transitional arrangement with a determined campaign to point out the need for a fully integrated system.

"Small sixth forms will not be abolished overnight," said a political source.

The White Paper will have "green edges" and there will be consultation during the summer on some of the contentious or less specific areas, including local structures and sixth forms.

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