Shephard bridges the divide;Gillian Shephard

7th July 1995 at 01:00
TES staff report on John Major's radical Whitehall restructuring which has merged education and training for the first time.

The submerging of much of the Department of Employment into Gillian Shephard's empire at Education ends the long battle between training and qualifications which has been waged between the two ministries.

The decision by John Major to remove training to a re-structured Department of Education and Employment puts Mrs Shephard in charge of producing a coherent system for educating the workforce as well as running schools and colleges.

Such changes have long been advocated by senior civil servants, most prominently by Sir Geoffrey Holland, a former permanent secretary at both departments. However, the decision to put education in the lead came as a surprise and suggests a strong commitment by Mr Major to bridging the academic and vocational divide.

The new department takes over most of the areas previously covered by the Department of Employment, with only pay policy and industrial relations hived off to the Department of Trade and Industry.

The creation of a much larger department is likely to enhance the influence of Mrs Shephard, a John Major loyalist who is generally considered to be a success in the job. After the announcement, she said it was the clearest indication that education and training was top of the Government's priorities.

She said in the past there had been "turf wars" between the two departments and added: "There will be no effort wasted defining departmental differentials. We can get rid of all that and get on with the job."

Details of exactly how the new merged department would be organised had yet to be worked out, but among the tasks made easier for the Education Secretary is the development of vocational qualifications. The difference in outlook between departments on content has slowed the introduction of vocational courses in schools.

It may well mean a merger of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and National Council for Vocational Qualifications. This is less likely to be a merger than a takeover of the NCVQ by the much larger SCAA.

A SCAA spokesman said: "The evidence to Sir Ron Dearing's review of 16-19 qualifications emphasises the need for greater coherence between the academic and vocational worlds and this move will doubtless help achieve that."

The exam boards see the dawn of a new breakthrough. Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of BTEC, said: "Under the newly merged department I would look forward to very substantial and speedy progress towards such goals.

But he issued a note of warning: "We must let neither side in this equation get the upper hand and the moves towards parity of esteem must continue."

Further education college principals were swift to welcome the move which they say should go a long way to sorting out the confusion over funding between TECs and colleges.

Howard Davies, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "The Confederation welcomes the changes for education and training announced by the Government. We have long argued that responsibility for these two vital areas should be brought closer together.

"The proposed structure will help to provide a clearer focus to educational policy-making."

The Royal Society of Arts has been pushing for a merger since 1992. "It looks like Christmas, doesn't it?" said Christopher Ball, the director of learning. "I'm delighted. Of course there'll be enormous problems in the transition: the devil will be in the detail, as ever."

The change has also had its critics. TUC general secretary John Monks said: "It's a sad day when the department that is supposed to stick up for the unemployed, the vulnerable and those liable to exploitation will not be represented at the cabinet table. I very much regret the fact that Michael Portillo did not fight for his department."

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