13th November 2015 at 00:00
Cherry-picked to pieces

There’s nothing FErret loves more than a government-commissioned overhaul of vocational education. Which is a good job, because there’s another one on the way.

Yes, just four years after the Wolf report, and two years on from the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning, skills minister Nick Boles has unveiled proposals for “groundbreaking” plans to ensure clearer progression routes from school to high-level technical qualifications.

These reforms, the Department for Education press release confidently proclaims, will put us “on a par with the best in the world”. The Netherlands and Norway are picked out for particular praise.

So just how impressive are these vocational pioneers, then? Team UK finished an extremely creditable seventh at this summer’s WorldSkills competition in Brazil, so presumably these two emerging superpowers must have been battling it out at the top of the medal table? Well, not exactly. Norway finished 16th and the Netherlands in joint 19th place.

But in the most recent adult skills survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, both did perform significantly better than England in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. So perhaps we should give the DfE the benefit of the doubt. After all, FErret doesn’t want to be accused of cherry-picking evidence from international league tables. Who would do a thing like that?

Crime scene investigation

While the unusual merger between cash-strapped Totton College and crime prevention charity Nacro raised a few eyebrows, it appears the move may have helped the sixth-form college dodge a bullet. Having got wind that Totton was going to be belatedly added into the Solent area review once its merger was complete, FErret’s reporting colleagues checked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who dutifully confirmed that this was indeed the case.

But several days later, an apologetic Bis representative revealed that this wasn’t quite the full story. Although Totton will be considered part of the “context of all local education provision for 16- to 19-year-olds and adults” – rather like local schools – it won’t be subject to full recommendations. So the college may not find itself being compelled to undergo its second merger in quick succession. Nacro must be rather relieved.

Three’s a crowd

As FErret reported last month, there’s been plenty of speculation about a potential merger between the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and its higher education equivalent, Hefce (bit.ly/UrgeToMerge).

Adult learning body Niace (soon to be renamed the Learning and Work Institute) and the CBI weighed in with the suggestion, before thinktank Policy Exchange got in on the act, arguing that the move would “streamline the general regulatory architecture around HE and FE”.

But has the SFA been gazumped? Just last week, the government’s Green Paper on HE put forward a merger between Hefce and the Office for Fair Access, to form the Office for Students. The new organisation would “promote the student interest and value for money, and reduce the regulatory burden on the sector”, according to Bis.

That sounds like a pretty big task. Could it also cope with an influx of FE refugees from the SFA, armed with a whole new set of acronyms for the HE lot to learn? FErret can’t help but fear this may be a step too far. Perhaps it’s time for the SFA to flash its ankles over at the DfE and cosy up with the Education Funding Agency instead.

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