The planned new sector skills body for post-16 training wants to be a force for unification and inclusion. Steve Hook reports
A SINGLE body setting training standards for further and higher education is planned for June.
The new Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council, which hopes to also represent providers of work-based learning, intends to meet first on June 1, as a shadow organisation, with a view to an official launch 10 months later.
The single council aims to replace the national training organisation for post-16 education, to provide a coherent voice between the sectors.
Around 25 SSCs are to be created to replace the 72 NTOs which were responsible for advising on the training requirements of each industry.
The post-16 body would be formed from the Further Education National Training Organisation, the Higher Education Staff Development Agency and the Association of Learning Providers.
While the body aims to be all-inclusive, question marks remain about whether adult and community education will be on board.
Apart from communicating the training needs of its own sector, the new body will have a crucial role for other industries as it will define training for those who teach their future workers. It is thus seen as the lynchpin, on which the success of the other Sector Skills Councils will depend.
For David Hunter, chief executive of Fento, pulling together the different factions that will merge to make the new body is perhaps the biggest challenge.
He also have to win the approval of all four UK countries. The Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all have a veto over the creation of the new body whose primary sponsor so far has been the Department for Education and Skills in England.
Most of the potential participants in the new body had signed up to the it long before the Fento-led conference to discuss it at the Cafe Royal last week, leaving speakers to preach to the converted. But away from the conference platform, much real business was done.
At a meeting during the conference, the partners agreed a timetable of action.
A "shadow" skills council for lifelong learning will meet on June 1, when it will set about preparing its case for a formal launch, which will be submitted to the Sector Skills Development Agency.
Development cash will then flow from the agency, which, if it supports the proposal, will recommend that Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, approves statutory status for the new council.
Mr Hunter said that the body had been agreed in principle: "The four ministers have signed up and now we just have to make sure that what ever turns up at the end of this process actually meets their needs."
Sir George Sweeney, Fento's chairman and the man heading the FE bureaucracy-busting task force, used the conference to press home the need to get the council up and running. He is conscious that the council will be yet another "partnership", a word well-established in the FE jargon handbook, so stressed the need to turn the all-too-familiar rhetoric into reality.
That, he said, meant an end to the talking and a need for a definite timetable. As delegates left the conference on Friday last week, that timetable was in place.
Politically, the new body could be launched, even if some bits of government-funded training of post-16 education workers are excluded from its remit. It is accepted, for instance, that many of the universities, whose ancient privileges continue to insulate them from change, could continue to go their own way.