Three of education's main protagonists have brokered a ground-breaking deal which could change the face of post-16 services.
The agreement between local government, training and enterprise councils and the Further Education Funding Council could usher in a new era of glasnost between organisations with a history of conflicting aims.
It is designed to create wholesale changes in the administration and delivery of courses; to heal the post-incorporation rift between local government and colleges; and to save millions from the annual pound;3 billion bill for training and education of 16 to 19-year-olds.
If the blueprint wins Government approval it could end years of clashing priorities and competition between schools, colleges and training providers. Baroness Blackstone, the education minister has "warmly welcomed" the proposals.
The four-point framework advocates:
* Democratisation of education bodies. Reciprocal arrangements would see councillors sitting on college boards and FEFC regional committees and college governors co-opted onto local education authorities. At present around 60 per cent of college governing bodies and only one FEFC regional committee include councillors.
* Greater coherence in the provision of learning opportunities, bringing across-the-board accountability and improving quality.
* Convergence of funding arrangements - so that A-levels or Advanced General National Vocational Qualifications, for example, would attract the same funding if delivered at school or college.
* Convergence of quality assurance arrangements, with a rationalisation of post-16 inspection roles for OFSTED and FEFC. In a letter to Baroness Blackstone outlining their plans, the Local Government Association and FEFC hinted at the unsuitability of present inspection regimes: "We do not believe it is in the interests of young people, their parents or employers that the information and judgments about provision in each sector are currently made on substantially different bases."
In a joint statement the LGA, FEFC and the TEC national council acknowledge that "in recent years too many institutions have been distracted from their real task by the demands of a competitive market". The new spirit of cooperation could improve choice and quality, avoid course duplication, and provide better value for money.
Graham Lane, chair of the LGA education committee, described the arrangement as a "complete partnership". He said: "This agreement is the start of a revolution in post-16 education. It places the individual needs of pupils first rather than the needs of the institution."
He added: "Planning will be determined locally and will replace the competition of old with a new dynamic and coherent strategy. We are asking for no new money and no new staff. There are only winners - the students."
Mary Lord, TEC national nouncil director of education and training said:
"This breakthrough will enable the better use of limited public resources and thus realise greater value for money for taxpayers."
David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, welcomed the "strategic alliance".
"It is an exciting innovation in which we have agreed a set of principles on how our organisations will work as partners."
The trio will now embark on six months of consultation, with a pilot scheme pencilled in for September and full implementation before the millennium.