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Watching where the funds flow

Humberside, that uneasy union of what used to be south-east Yorkshire and north-east Lincolnshire, must surely be one of the most challenging places to cultivate the green shoots that the Government is keen to see growing in the education and skills garden.

The three biggest towns in the county have all seen their traditional industries collapse. Grimsby has lost its fishing, Hull has lost its docks, and Scunthorpe its steel. Despite having the second longest road bridge in the world, the area's transport links are poor. In all, this part of the country is too often seen as a backwater and perhaps its education record reflects that - Hull's schools regularly bump along at the foot of national league tables.

But this is not a picture that Sheilah Burden is willing to acknowledge. The executive director of Humberside's Learning and Skills Council argues that such industrial decline is a thing of the past. She passionately believes that all three towns have been regenerated, with the emphasis on small to medium-sized enterprises. Of course, that brings new challenges, but she welcomes the opportunities presented by the Green Paper.

"I'm certainly a great believer in more choice for young people and I welcome the focus on what the learners are looking for. This is long overdue, but I'm not keen on the phrase 'vocational route'.

"Taking a vocational qualification doesn't commit a young person to go down a particular route. Taking physics doesn't commit you to becoming a scientist. I'd like to see young people choosing to do a little bit of everything.

"I don't discount the practical difficulties. In this area we have a preponderance of small employers and it's more difficult to get them involved. It's absolutely critical that we find a way through to make it work.

"And this is where the work-based providers and the colleges come in. The ALI (Adult Learning Inspectorate) report obviously makes us concerned about quality, and we will be looking to lose any provision that fails to meet grades 1 or 2. But we have providers who are excellent.

"We will need to be able to offer high-quality guidance to young people. And we need to address issues of pastoral care. Who will be responsible for the pastoral care of the young person? This needs to be absolutely clear.

"Employers feel that education doesn't understand the way that modern business operates and the difficulty is not just about having high-quality guidance - it's about making sure that the guidance is up to date and relevant. To that end, teacher placements need to be restarted.

"In the 1990s, teacher placement was too much about meeting quotas - but now we need to go for much longer-term placements, and Ithink these should benefit the school directly by being connected to the subject.

"When we held our consultation meetings about the Green Paper, I felt that one of the strengths here was the enthusiasm for change.

"Weaknesses could include the risk that performance measures might distort the agenda - as they have in the NHS.

"I also have concerns about resources. Not the overall budget - we'll work within that - but it's the way that money finds its way through to programmes.

"The funding flows between organisations. There needs to be parity, not just between the courses but also for the people delivering the learning and training."

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