Typical! Whys after the event

David Sherlock

THE EARLY days of quasi-retirement found me puzzled. The question "Why?"

crept into the stuff I once used to accept.

Why, for example, did anyone think that Sir Andrew Foster and Lord Sandy Leitch might have something innovative to say about skills in their reviews of FE? Sir Andrew is a former auditor, now a banker, and Lord Leitch is an insurer. The old joke - that auditors are folk for whom accountancy proved too exciting - refused to be banished from my mind.

Banking and insurance might be at the heart of the service economy, but aren't they a bit grey-suited? I couldn't see either of these men among the machinists, fitters, care assistants, shelf-fillers and commis chefs who are the poor bloody infantry of skills strategy. What about a 2007 "jobskills II." (or is it IV?) written by a panel of joiners, mechanics, electricians and short-order cooks?

Why, too, did anyone seriously believe that the Learning and Skills Council would dramatically reduce its workforce? That wonderful and much-disputed dish of select committee evidence, showing that it started with about 4,000 staff and still had about 4,000 five years later, having paid out many millions in severance deals, gave my head a pleasurable spin.

But, I mused, had the bulk of this workforce not come from the training and enterprise councils, which were commercial companies? Were they not the acme of private-sector efficiency, unlikely to succumb to the temptations of over-manning?

And was the workload expected of the LSC not greater than that required of the Further Education Funding Council and the TECs combined, what with all that planning and training to gain and skilling for life?

Three or four thousand people rationally handing out and accounting for Pounds 10 billion comes to about pound;2.5 million each - an efficiency gain with every extra pound allotted to learning and skills providers in the past six years.

And why should it be so blithely assumed that specialist diplomas will be an instant success? Sure, every decent curriculum professional in the land is straining every sinew to make them so. The tale goes that schools everywhere are clamouring to run them.

But some children and their parents are still convinced of the ineffable superiority of GCSEs and A-levels over all other qualifications. Will they sign up?

And some awarding bodies are still flicking dizzily over the beads of the abacus. Will selling specialist diploma units balance the loss of all those well-established, all-development-costs-already-paid certificates and diplomas? Will enough providers want to run them, even if they do look like commercial Grand National winners?

Why, why, why? No way at all to retire, brows furrowed and brain boggled.

Thank goodness for exciting pastures new.

David Sherlock is the former chief inspector of the Adult Learning Inspectorate

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