Noel Kershaw (Opinion, TES, January 10) has made a very interesting contribution to the debate about post-16 funding. He was right on two important points. A common formula is needed for further education, sixth-form work in schools, adult education and work-related training. And vouchers or learning accounts (which amount to much the same thing) would just create unnecessary bureaucracy. However, his proposal for a super-Further Education Funding Council is likely to result in just another massive national quango.
Only strategic planning of the service at local and regional level can rationalise the present quasi-market. But although in one paragraph Mr Kershaw says there would be "regional oversight with teeth", he proposes to remove all involvement from the institutions best-placed to exercise this oversight: local authorities and training and enterprise councils.
The post-compulsory education and training system is operated as if it had no effect at all on local communities and local economies. However, policy-makers in community development and economic development are emphatic that education is a major force for change. Local economic development has moved away from its origin in land use planning (here's some derelict land, let's put a shopping centre on it) to the view that the skills of local people are the main driving force in creating a prosperous economy. The vogue word is "partnership", and both TECs and local authorities are leading players in the local development partnerships emerging all over the country.
Funding of post-compulsory education and training could be developed through partnerships including local authorities (to ensure democratic accountability), TECs (who have experience in relating training to their local economies but have so far been allowed to run only the lowest-status training), employers' organisations (particularly of small and medium enterprises and sectoral organisations), trade unions (whose role should be obvious, but unfortunately may need arguing) and community and voluntary organisations. These partnerships would probably need to operate at a more local level than the government regional offices which Mr Kershaw refers to, ideally with boundaries that respected travel-to-work and travel-to-college patterns, and not necessarily following local authority or TEC borders.
Most of the money could be allocated according to nationally-set criteria, as Mr Kershaw suggests, including the current FEFC elements such as enrolment, retention, achievement, plus student support. However, all these elements are only variations of a per-student basis. There would also need to be freedom to spend for locally-identified needs, and there is no reason to suppose that any of the partners would confine their priorities to narrow training at the expense of general education.
Of course, any funding mechanism can only be as good as the amount of funding put into it. A national quango is only suitable for spending what it is given by central government. A system based on local partnership has the potential to bring in money from other directions, especially employers, perhaps in the form of a levy.
Senior research fellow School of Post-Compulsory Education and Training University of Greenwich Avery Hill Campus Eltham