Tories build FE freedom charter

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Shadow skills secretary to develop proposals for more further education power at next week's party conference

Conservatives will develop their proposals for greater further education freedom at the party's forthcoming conference in Manchester.

Speaking ahead of the conference, which starts on Monday, David Willetts, shadow secretary for universities and skills, said providers had become too dependent on government schemes and agencies, such as the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), for funding and strategy.

Building on the theme of college freedom in the Conservatives' skills green paper from March, Mr Willetts said that he would like colleges to explore ways of diversifying their sources of income, including that to cover future capital projects.

"There is a need to change the culture away from one of dependence on the LSC," he said. "The balance of funding has shifted from other sources to LSC grants. So we will be looking at how we can gear up colleges to use other sources of funding."

Mr Willetts also criticised a perceived over-emphasis on funding education and training that leads to recognised qualifications. He said he would be developing both themes during his conference speeches.

"Colleges were so tied up in getting people qualified that there were some people that they could not reach - those not in education, employment and training," he said.

"And what has been happening to adult education is a national scandal. We would want to set aside some money to kick start adult education that does not necessarily lead to a qualification."

Mr Willetts welcomed last week's report by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) calling for reform of Train to Gain so that less was spent subsidising training for employers and more was used to pay for education and training for young people, including Neets.

"Our green paper judgment was tough in that it said that Train to Gain was subsidising training that employers would have done anyway," he said.

"But everything that's happened since has validated the approach in our green paper. So we would keepTrain to Gain but reform it in the ways that the LSN described. We will refocus Train to Gain money on apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship qualifications."

Mr Willetts said that Building Colleges for the Future had been a disaster for the sector. But he indicated that a future Conservative government was highly unlikely to find the money to cover the outstanding work.

"Clearly we are in tough times so we cannot promise money for those colleges," he said. "But I would like to get a maintenance and refurbishment budget going because there are buildings the sector had hoped would be pulled down that now have to be used for a few more years."

The Conservatives remain sceptical of the Government's plans to hand control of the planning and funding of education for the under-19s to local authorities next April.

Mr Willetts was also dismissive of the Government's reworked proposals for adult education which include giving each of the country's nine regional development agencies responsibility for developing skills strategies that would be binding on the proposed new Skills Funding Agency. He said that sector skills councils might be better placed to develop skills strategies.

Mr Willetts will speak about adult learning at midday on Monday at a fringe event hosted by Reform and Niace.

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