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What key players want;Post-16 reform;FE Focus

THE Local Government Association is prepared to accept a national funding body for all post-school education, provided local councils retain a major stake in the planning process at both national and local level.

In its response to the Government's consultation, it expresses a desire to continue funding adult education, the youth and community services as well as school sixth forms, but is prepared to accept that this funding should come largely from a central body.

It accepts that the way the money is spent will be decided through the local lifelong learning partnerships, provided that the local authority is strongly represented there and they are set up on existing LEA boundaries. But the LGA recognises that some of the partnerships would have to merge in urban areas to provide a comprehensive and effective planning of courses.

An LGA spokesperson said local authorities did not want to be defensive about their future role. "We do not have a fixed position providing there is a democratic input at regional and local level and the planning framework is right."

She added that the LGA did not regard the present Further Education Funding Council regional committees as being adequate in both respects.

On the relationship of school sixth form and college funding, the LGA points out that the whole of the school funding system based on the Government's Fair Funding policy, would be jeopardised.

The Government should make it clear that it would look at the pilot schemes for separate sixth-form funding and consult widely before it merges the school and FE funding systems and imposes convergence to a single funding unit.

A BUSINESS-led national body to fund the whole of post-16 education and training to improve the skills of both workforce and management is favoured by the TEC National Council. This body would be a holding company which would provide money on a contract basis to achieve the Government's lifelong learning targets.

The new body would devise a single coherent framework, which would include training and enterprise council and Further Education Funding Council funds, local authority adult education provision and school sixth forms. All the present stakeholders would be represented on the board - employers, trade unions, local government and the voluntary sector. The strategy would fund an all-age information, advice and guidance service for adult learners - perhaps under licence from the University for Industry.

At local level the national body would contract with local organisations for planning, purchasing and quality assurance. The TEC National Council wants these organisations to be independent. They should be large enough to maximise economies of scale, but close to customers. They would have detailed understanding of the local training and labour markets.

However, the local bodies would lose their licence to broker government-backed training if they failed to fulfil contractual requirements and get high levels of customer satisfaction, the council warns.

While they are not pleading overtly for their continued survival, the TECs say that "in order to ensure a positive progression to the current learning targets, any change has to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Existing purchasing and delivery agencies or partnerships have the experience and the capacity to evolve into the new local bodies and this would ensure continuity and progression".

* THE present system of colleges franchising their courses with companies is inefficient and should be scrapped, the Training Standards Council says. Large companies and those which provide training in at least two regions should be funded directly by central government on a national tariff.

Colleges should be funded by the Government or by a new statutory agency. Smaller companies should get core funding nationally. The rest they would get from a regional body such as the regional development agency or a sub-regional body. "Little would be gained in the way of efficiency, if local funding bodies such as the lifelong learning partnerships were to replace the present 72 TECs. We believe the reduced number of enlarged TECs should form the core of subregional bodies."

These "super TECs" would carry on the essential job of bringing the needs of business into planning and funding local provision in partnership with other strategic bodies. This blend of national and locally determined funding would secure stability for local providers while being sensitive and accountable to local needs and interests.

The council wants to cut the administrative burden on companies. The present system of franchising is risky and involves companies in excessive administrative costs. The quality assurance of small providers and employers should be carried out by consortia of providers or by the TECs.

All the different inspectorates in post-16 education and training should work to a compatible framework based on self-assessment and there should be a shared training and registration of inspectors. Inspection services need to be quite independent of funding bodies; the method of funding influences the learning outcome and should itself be the subject of scrutiny and criticism.

* THE TUC supports a national funding and planning body, bringing together the funds distributed by the Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils. It should be a non-departmental public body, and work closely with the Higher Education Funding Council.

New funding arrangements must not harm schools, and there should be a levelling up of 16-19 provision. The new body could also assume responsibility for the Government's National Skills Strategy, and could provide funding at institutional, sectoral or regional level for Modern Apprenticeships, National Traineeships and other job development schemes.

The TUC wants an integrated system of national inspection to replace the three existing bodies but insists it must be at arm's length to preserve its independence.

The national body will need to be informed of the skill and learning needs of the regional labour market. "It would make sense if Regional Development Agencies assumed some direct responsibility for post-16 provision or at the very least share responsibility for such provision with any new regional funding arm of the national body."

The TUC supports the lifelong learning partnerships currently being developed and says they will lead to much greater collaboration between post-16 providers. Partnerships need to subsume other local partnerships rather than be additional to them. Employers and unions should be included as well as colleges, local authorities, the careers and youth services.

There would remain a strong case for local agencies with a contractual role with the national body to help deliver local learning plans. This TEC role needs to be assumed by such agencies, says the TUC.

* THE National Institute of Adult Continuing Education wants an umbrella body to plan lifelong learning. In its final submission it proposes a tripartite committee structure under the national body, each responsible for its own core funding.

The three funding streams would be: work-placed learning; formally organised education and training in mainstream FE; and community education, including the youth service.

NIACE director Alan Tuckett told a conference in Leicester last week: "Local government has not had a good decade and too many councillors still think of adult education as discretionary. But it would be wrong to shift resources from local government because of its capacity for economic regeneration and joined-up policy with arts, libraries, museums and social services.

"We are convinced that effective strategies for widening participation and achievement rely on the effective engagement of multi-purpose local democratic bodies. However, that engagement must be effective."

To ensure that local authorities provided an effective community education service, the funding would be ring-fenced and a standard of spending would be set at the average of the top 25 per cent of authorities in terms of pounds per adult. Local authorities would also be responsible for meeting the Government's participation target for adult learning.

Mr Tuckett said most of his members wanted to give the new lifelong learning partnerships a key regulatory and advisory role. They would be co-ordinated by the local authority and serviced by its staff. At regional level lifelong learning partnerships would be serviced by the FEFC regional offices. Any college, adult centre or voluntary body should be able to bid for funds in any of the core streams.

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