I was intrigued to read in this august publication that the Learning and Skills Council is to be abolished. Is this an example of the English disease of knocking success? Let's look at what we do and what we have achieved.
Through Agenda for Change, we are boosting the reputation of FE. After years of neglect, the sector is flourishing, and I applaud colleges and providers for their work.
I object to the idea that the council is wasting money. Most of its budget is spent on frontline delivery to learners (pound;10.1 billion). Our running costs (2.5 per cent) are comparable to or lower than many large organisations, and we have delivered within the budget on all targets in the past year. We are spending more than ever before on meeting learners'
and employers' needs and seeing great results. Success rates have risen by 2.6 per cent to 73.8 per cent across FE and work-based learning, so more people are completing courses and achieving qualifications.
We have increased the number of adults achieving basic skills qualifications by 22 per cent. The number of adults taking level 2 (GCSE equivalent) qualifications has risen by 9.4 per cent, and participation in apprenticeships has grown by 7.6 per cent. The number of apprentices has risen to 175,000, and 45 per cent of 19-year-olds achieve qualifications at level 3 (A-level equivalent) or above - a 3.5 per cent rise.
We spend as much on level 3 as on level 2, and more than pound;1bn on learner support. Education maintenance allowances give young people from low-income families up to pound;30 a week to help with the cost of staying on, and their families get wider benefits. Last year, 425,000 young people received EMA and stayed on. Through the Learner Support Fund, we make pound;100m a year available to colleges and local authorities to support students who can't afford books, transport, childcare and so on.
We survey 75,000 employers every year about their skills needs. Our 2005 survey showed a drop in the numbers found to have a skills requirement, from 11 per cent in 2003 to 6 per cent. In September, we launched the pound;230m Train to Gain. This will help half a million adults to achieve level 2 qualifications in the workplace by 2010.
The council's national employer service provides skills solutions and a single point of contact for large firms. We are working with small and large employers and adapting to the shifting skills needs in the economy.
We continue to make genuine progress and I look forward to working with all our partners in the next year to make England more competitive and skilled.
Will the LSC endure in its current form? No. It is changing the way it operates, and to great effect - new partnership teams to work with local authorities on the 14 to 19 agenda, a tighter focus on regional skills and a slimmer national office are examples. These are just a few of the positive changes that will enable us to deliver even more.
There is always a need for reform, and we must press on with Agenda for Change. We will deliver. We have done so to date and will continue to do so.
Mark Haysom is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council