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Tricky birth for lifelong council

Scottish concerns at the remit of the proposed sector skills council could put it in jeopardy. Steve Hook reports

A Scottish veto could block the creation of a new body to set training standards for lecturers throughout the UK.

The Government is demanding new sector skills councils to set training standards in all areas of employment. Colleges would no longer be represented by their own Further Education National Training Organisation, but by a body which would also cover higher education and work-based learning.

The Scottish Executive wants this skills council to include adult and community education, youth work and libraries.

But the organisation representing these areas - called Paulo (after the radical educationalist Paulo Friere) - is yet to sign up to the group which is to form the new skills council. Each of the UK countries effectively has a veto over the creation of the skills council, seen as the baby of the Department for Education and Skills.

A source at the Scottish Executive told FEFocus that the devolved government's ministers were not "shrinking violets" and might yet refuse to approve the proposed new councils to protect their policy of keeping community learning and development "in the tent", along with FE, higher education and work-based learning.

Tough negotiations continue between the Fento-led grouping behind the SSC proposal and Paulo. The latter wants to bring all of its work, including libraries and youth and community, under the remit of the SSC as well as crossing the age-16 gap.

Fento wants Paulo on board to represent adult and community education, but sees other aspects of its work as outside the SSC's scope.

David Hunter, who came from Northern Ireland to become chief executive of Fento, said: "We would like to include adult and community and it would be more coherent with it than without it.

"But we can start with what we have. Bringing FE, HE and work-based learning together is a big achievement in itself and we can build from that.

"Northern Ireland is a good training ground for this sort of thing. We will find a way through this because we have to. In the end, people will have to give some ground and I'm sure that will happen."

While Paulo and Fento continue to stress their commitment to thrashing out a deal, Mr Hunter's position has a sting in the tail. He could find ways of including adult and community education without Paulo's involvement.

He said: "I would stress that what we need is for the employers to be represented - and that does not mean it has to be the NTO."

Meanwhile, whatever is being discussed behind closed doors, the public brinkmanship continues.

Phil Denning, chief executive of Paulo, said: "We think that the position of Fento is too narrow and we are working to try and make sure the other elements are also covered. We want to include, for instance, personal advisers who work for Connexions, and who deal with under-16s as well as post-16.

"We want to include the libraries, many of which are learning centres themselves. We have written to the FE Fento grouping about this.

"This is not like any other industry. There are a lot of complexities here and the DfES has started to realise that. It has to build people in rather than building walls which block them out."

Fento conference, 37

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