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What is LLUK? If this man does his job right, you'll know soon

The latest public-funded body to be created in post-16 education knows it cannot afford to join the ranks of anonymous recipients of government cash in the world of lifelong learning.

As Lifelong Learning UK prepared for its official launch in Parliament next week, its chairman, John Hedger, said that he wanted it to be recognised as doing some good.

He may have retired from Whitehall but those who know him say he remains a civil servant to his fingertips. When he accepted the chair, he was already busy with another retirement job - working for the Home Office on a review of the police promotions system between the ranks of constable and inspector.

LLUK will be responsible for setting training standards for all those who work in post-16 education, including colleges, the workplace and universities.

It will even look after less obvious educational occupations such as youth and library work.

Mr Hedger says one of its objectives is not only to be well-known but recognised as improving the lot of the employers it represents.

His is not the first organisation which has promised to make sense of the plate of spaghetti that post-16 education has become. What LLUK is trying to do for workforce development, the Learning and Skills Council has been promising to do for funding since it was created in 2001.

He hopes that the ordinary lecturer will, in time, at least know what LLUK is and, in five years, that all training providers - including colleges - will recognise that this latest beast in the lifelong learning jungle is "making a difference".

"It would be good if people knew what we were and could describe our role," he added. "It would be pretty dismal if they didn't at least understand what we are for.

"In five years, I hope LLUK will have given employers a sense that they are really influencing the development of their own workforce."

Already, LLUK has come a long way in getting interested parties to sign up to its cause.

It has brought together a bewildering range of occupations and, perhaps even tougher, convinced the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to put their training under its control. The Department for Education and Skills, which holds the purse strings, would not have accepted less than a UK-wide organisation.

It was a major challenge to bring the different bits of post-16 together and convince England's neighbours that they would be treated as equals within an organisation conceived in Whitehall.

It may have been reassuring to the smaller partners that David Hunter, chief executive of LLUK and the fledgling organisation which preceded it, is an Ulsterman whose own career included youth work at its toughest - in the streets of Belfast.

A series of what could be described as corporate group therapy sessions at Windsor Castle helped cement the relationship.

Mr Hedger's role will be part consultant, part diplomat. His background in the DfES included responsibility for the old national training organisations, which gives him unique inside knowledge into how the old system went wrong.

LLUK is one of more than 30 sector skills councils responsible for the training of staff in different industries, from hairdressing to construction. The councils replace a network of more than 70 national training organisations, which were much smaller.

Mr Hedger was at the DfES when he first began to doubt the effectiveness of the national training organisations and does not mourn their passing.

"There were a lot of national training organisations and there was an understanding among us that something had to change because many were not sufficiently well-resourced," said Mr Hedger.

"Many of the smaller ones had little influence."


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