Setback for skills council

26th September 2003 at 01:00
University teacher trainers refuse to support proposed 'employer-led' body for lifelong learning. Steve Hook reports

Plans for a post-16 sector skills council have suffered a fresh setback as the project meets opposition from universities which carry out teacher training.

The latest attack on the proposed lifelong learning sector skills council comes from the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.

In a statement issued this week, UCET said: "No other section of the teaching profession has an employer-led body endorsing its qualifications.

"Indeed, there is a better argument for locating further education work under the auspices of the Teacher Training Agency.

"If higher education did form part of an SSC, there is a danger that, because of its higher political profile, it would tend to dominate proceedings.

"It would be extremely damaging if the new body were to be seen as invading territory that had only recently been assigned to the fledgling legislatures in different parts of the UK.

"UCET therefore has too many reservations to lend its support to the development of an SSC for lifelong learning."

The comments have alarmed the Further Education National Training Organisation (Fento), which has worked hard with Hesda - the Higher Education Staff Development Agency - to keep the universities on board.

While Hesda represents universities as employers of lecturers, UCET represents their interests as teacher trainers.

David Hunter, chief executive of Fento, said: "I am concerned about their position and we would like to talk further with them and see how we can move this forward."

Colleges in Northern Ireland and Wales have gone public with their concerns that the fledgling SSC is too big and should not have been expanded to include libraries, in-house training and youth work.

ANIC, the Association of Colleges of Northern Ireland, and Fforwm, in Wales, both told FE Focus the project had grown too large. English and Scottish colleges have already raised similar objections.

John Darcy, chief executive of ANIC, said "We would have hoped progress would have been very much smoother. It would have been better for us to get on with this as a smaller grouping and for others to come and join us later. I think it will be difficult to untangle it now.

"This has increased the amount of time it is going to take. It seems it has grown out of all proportion."

Fforwm says it still has not heard the results of the Windsor conference three weeks ago, which was supposed to create agreement on the way forward.

Department for Education and Skills officials are known to have been working on a press statement outlining the outcome of Windsor, although it has not been released.

John Graystone, chairman of Fforwm, said: "We are concerned about being overwhelmed by England.

"With the wider scope, there are more likely to be vested interests and things will get bogged down.

"It might have been better to start small and then allow the thing to expand."

The four associations representing colleges in the UK countries meet in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, next week to discuss whether they are prepared to go any further with the enlarged SSC or insist on the original model - involving HE, FE and private training companies.

The clouds which famously gather over the Mountains of Mourne, overlooking Newcastle, could prove a bad omen for ministers.

One insider told FE Focus: "You can't afford to ignore the position of, effectively, all but a few of the colleges in the UK."

Between 20 and 30 SSCs are to be created, replacing the 72 national training organisations which acted as the voice of employers in helping to set standards and influence government policy on training.

It is intended that the SSCs, by being smaller in number, will take more account of industry sectors which are closely related.

It was originally intended to have a single SSC for the whole of education, including schools. But the DfES feels this would create too large an organisation.

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