Sector must grab its chance to shape future

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
The folly that was the decision to give local authorities power to commission and fund 16-to-18 education and training

The British have a wonderful tradition of building follies. These can be large like Portmeirion, or one bloke's dream of turning his terraced house and garden into a bijou version of the Alhambra in Granada.

But follies don't just come in bricks and mortar. Take, for example, the decision to give local authorities the power to commission and fund 16-to-18 education and training across all further education providers.

Colleges were always pretty sceptical that being rolled back into the local authority "family" would improve their capacity to respond effectively to learning and skills needs. Independent providers were positively alarmed at the prospect.

The system, implemented on April 1 this year, is so complicated that it comes with its own set of instructions called the National Commissioning Framework, which runs to well over 100 pages.

So hats off to the coalition Government for abandoning the system before it had a chance to bed in and interfere with FE. Colleges do and will continue to work closely with local authorities, but they don't need to be part of the family.

Congratulations, too, on the coalition's decision to give business, innovation and skills minister John Hayes a joint role in the Department for Education as minister for 16 to 18 apprenticeships and career advice.

FE Focus humbly suggests that the first thing Mr Hayes, who is proving a popular champion of FE, ought to do is to organise basic skills lessons in apprenticeships and vocational education for his new colleagues.

Of course, Education Secretary Michael Gove still retains control over more than pound;4 billion of annual FE college funding while the rest of it, for adults, comes from BIS.

So David Willetts' somewhat eyewatering image of FE "staddling" two departments remains an issue when simplicity and cost-effectiveness are the order of the day.

Some argue that FE's 16-to-18 pot will be better protected if held by the DfE under the aegis of a rapidly expanding Young People's Learning Agency. It may also make sense to split pre and post-18 funding and pair adult FE with higher education in BIS.

Others, including many college principals, want a single, efficient funding body disbursing all funding for FE.

Based on this week's changes, any number of outcomes are possible for FE. Government's mind is not set and it is clearly proceeding in stages. FE has everything to play for.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus


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