The new lifelong learning skills sector council is to look after all post-16 staff. Steve Hook reports
The training of all staff in post-16 education is expected to come under the umbrella of a single organisation from January.
The lifelong learning sector skills council has been approved for a licence to operate, which means it can start in business on January 3, subject to final approval by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary.
A headquarters will be set up in Birmingham, with further offices in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast as the new sector skills council (SSC), known as Lifelong Learning UK, takes on its role, covering the whole of the UK.
It will take over the work of the post-16 national training organisations, including the Further Education National Training Organisation (Fento).
Approval came from the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA), the quango responsible for setting up SSCs across most of UK industry.
All SSC approvals have so far been rubber-stamped by the Department for Education and Skills, so the champagne has started flowing at the new organisation.
Each industry SSC is responsible for assessing the skills gaps in its own sector, setting standards of training and acting as the voice of employers on training issues.
The lifelong learning SSC is widely seen as the most important because the people it has responsibility for are involved in training staff in most of the sectors covered by the other SSCs.
It is the only UK-wide organisation to service all sectors of post-16 education and will also be involved in 14-16 education jointly with the Teacher Training Agency.
David Hunter, the SSC's new chief executive, held the same post at Fento and has been overseeing the transfer of staff to the new body. There have been no redundancies.
The new body is responsible for staff development in FE, higher education, work-based learning, adult and community education, and libraries and archives. Mr Hunter said: "The auditors sent in by the SSDA were very pleased with the way things were being done here and with the quality of our staff. I'm very pleased. A lot of people said this would not happen, and yet it has been done."
While the new body inherits the work already done by Fento on staff development, it will have to catch up in other areas, including adult and community education - largely carried out by local authorities and voluntary organisations.
It will also be responsible for youth workers who increasingly see themselves as part of the wider world of education and whose skills may need updating.
Mr Hunter added: "We are particularly concerned that we have very little data about adult and community learning and the skills of the workforce in this area.
"We need better data if we are to meet those needs and for government departments to be able to ask for the money to fund the support which may be needed."
Mr Hunter had warned that the Government's plans for lifelong learning would end up "in shreds" if the SSC was unable to contribute to raising standards in post-16 education.
Its launch is the result of months of bargaining between the different factions within post-16 education, including Paolo, the national training organisation for youth work, and the universities.
It has also involved getting the agreement of all four UK countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If any one had dropped out, the licence would have been turned down.
A number of meetings were held at Windsor Castle to find common ground between the organisations involved in setting up the sector skills council.