Reforms shy of the mark, say critics

15th October 1999 at 01:00
The response to Learning to Succeed reveals concerns from both teachers and employers, reports Harvey McGavin.

GOVERNMENT plans for post-16 education had their first test of public confidence this week, as responses to the Learning to Succeed White Paper poured into the Department for Education and Employment.

By the time The TES went to press the DFEE had received more than 300 replies from unions, employers, local authorities, businesses and other interested groups in the run-up to today's deadline.

The wide-ranging reforms put forward in June's White Paper are generally welcomed. Some, like the promises to "put the learner at the heart of the system" and to end the division between "vocational" and "leisure" courses, get a unanimous thumbs up.

But the overall approving tone is tempered by serious misgivings across the political spectrum.

The National Union of Teachers has "deep reservations" about some aspects and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is "not convinced" the measures will bring about solid reform.

The lecturers' union NATFHE finds "much to commend" in the White Paper but has two overriding concerns - its "focus on the needs of employment and employers" and "its lack of focus on the role of the practitioner." General secretary Paul Mackney said: "It's worrying that lecturing staff weren't mentioned until page 46."

Yet the Confederation of British Industry calls the White Paper "a step in the wrong direction". And its submission - one of the few to mourn the demise of training and enterprise councils - hints at widespread dissatisfaction among industry leaders.

"The proposals need "a great deal of further work to avoid serious pitfalls of centralisation, bureaucracy and disengagement of employers", it says.

The Local Government Association warns of "bureaucracy, muddle and competition with the network of national, regional and local quangos, councils, agencies and authorities".

The much-vaunted youth support strategy, Connexions, is viewed with some suspicion by practitioners. The Community and Youth Workers Union is "exceptionally sceptical of the tentative introduction of a new profession of youth broker or mentor". It is "unrealistic" to expect one person to cover so much, it says.

The Guidance Council worries that restructuring youth advice services around the needs of the "at risk" groups will hit services for the majority.

The expansion of the Office for Standards in Education's remit into further education's 16-19 provision will, according to the NUT, "be the object of extreme distrust".

NATFHE says: "To have one inspectorate responsible for 16-to-18 work and one for adult work makes little sense, and will result in confusion and overlap." The Training and Enterprise Council's national body calls for a "single independent Learning Inspectorate for all post-school education and training", a view echoed by others including the Association of Colleges.

The proposed super-quango to oversee post-16 education and training, the Learning and Skills Council, is generally welcomed, although NATFHE doubts the 15-member national council "will be able to reflect the diversity of even the major stakeholders ".

A new Bill, incorporating the measures outlined in the White Paper, is likely to be debated in the next session of parliament.

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