Learning Banquet or Dog’s Dinner?

Dick Evans helps us make sense of the Learning and Skills Bill and the changes that will affect us all in the years ahead.

In December 1999, the DfEE published the Bill that will establish the Learning and Skills Council for England. The Bill set out the range of responsibilities for the Council, which would include:

*  planning and funding post-16 further education and work-based training.
*  assuring the quality of provision that the Council funds, and
*  taking forward a strategy for quality improvement.

As a result the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) will take over the funding responsibilities of the Further Education Funding Council ( FEFC) and the Training, and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and will assume all other roles from 1st April 2001 when the FEFC, the Training Standards Council (TSC) and the TECs cease to exist.

Figure 1 attempts to show these changes.

fig01.

fig01.

The Bill also proposes a new inspection regime involving Ofsted and a new inspectorate, the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI). The proposals in the Bill will bring about a radical change in the way that post-16 education and training is planned, inspected and funded and the Government is hoping to bring about a more simplified and harmonised set of arrangements which will realise greater levels of value for money. Even though the Bill is progressing through Parliament, many questions still remain, particularly how all the elements in the new landscape, nationally, regionally and locally, will link and relate to each other. It is hard at this stage to imagine how there will be a more simplified and harmonised system and most certainly there is a big question mark hanging over whether it will actually cost less than the current set of arrangements. The devil most certainly is in the detail. Figure 2 attempts to show the new planning landscape at national, regional and local level.

Not only are there uncertainties and difficulties associated with the outworkings of the Bill but a real concern about the transitional period between the publication of the White Paper and the final introduction of the new arrangements in April 2001. Already we are witnessing an exodus of experienced staff from the FEFC, the TSC and the TECs and this has already caused instability in the management of existing arrangements leading up to the introduction of the new structures. Many providers have significant contracts with the TECs and it is the maintenance of these that is giving great concern as the staffing in the TECs declines and temporary appointments are made or other ad hoc arrangements are made to bridge this critical transitional period.

One major flaw in the legislation is the exclusion of the universities, and as a result Higher Education. Surely if this country is committed to developing a culture of lifelong learning then the exclusion of HE does not make sense. So much for the ‘seamless robe’ of education and training?! It surely does not make sense to exclude the universities on the assumption that the new Learning and Skills Council (LSC) will have too massive a budget, which could cause other Government departments, difficulties. Surely the rationale should be based on sound education and training reasons and a concerted effort to produce a high quality workforce now and in the future and not for questionable political expediency.

fig02.

fig02.

With all the current uncertainties and ambiguities and the lack of more precise operational detail of how the new arrangements will operate, we could be witnessing an example of ‘chaos theory’ in the post-16 education and training landscape.

One of the main tenets of chaos theory is that if the initial starting conditions are ill-defined then this can lead, possibly later, to chaos. It is absolutely essential that the detail is known and that adequate attention is given to the transitional arrangements, both before the enactment of the new arrangements and after. Instabilities created now will inevitably lead to uncertainties and ill-defined starting conditions for the new structures. It will obviously take time for the new arrangements to settle and due recognition and consideration must be given, by the Learning and Skills Council and the forty-seven Local Learning and Skills Councils, to the difficulties that providers will experience in moving from current practices to the new arrangements, otherwise chaos is very likely and a great deal of destruction could occur.

This instability could then dilute the worthy aims enshrined in the White Paper.

Let us consider some of the organisations shown in figure 2 and provide some background purpose and the possible linkages between them. At a national level we have the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the Small Business Service, Connexions, National Training Organisations and the University for Industry. At a regional level we have the Regional Development Agencies and at a local level we have the Local Learning and Skills Councils and Local Learning Partnerships.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

This will replace the main duties of the FEFC and the Training and Enterprise Councils and will have an operating budget of well over £ 5 billion. Forty per-cent of the membership of the Council will be employers and will disperse funding to the forty-seven Local Learning and Skills Councils; again the membership of these will be forty per-cent employer representation. A typical Local Learning and Skills Council will have a budget in excess of £100 million to fund over 10,000 learners including those in colleges and with private providers. In addition, the Local Learning and Skills Councils will be given more local discretion over funding than the current discretionary budgets of the TECs.

The Small Business Service

The Small Business Service (SBS) replaces the current Business Links and assumes responsibilities for a number of franchises that existed between Business Links and companies. A typical SBS will be responsible for supporting companies employing between 5 and 250 staff. One of the key issues will be the relationship between the Small Business Service and the new bodies that are being set up, particularly the Local Learning and Skills Councils in terms of determining how they communicate their requirements. The Small Business Service and its branches will be coterminus with particular Local Learning and Skills Councils and in some council areas could work closely with local user panels and an over-arching enterprise council that might be established. One of the main foci of the Small Business Service will be to reduce the burden of regulation on small businesses, as well as being an inheritor of some of the activities of the Training and Enterprise Councils. A pleasing aspect of the Small Business Services is the recognition of the importance of maintaining links between training and enterprise. It is essential that training and enterprise support is integrated and that the SBS will be responsible, through contact with the Local Learning and Skills Council, for providing and promoting advice on workforce development. SBS will need to concentrate especially on small and medium sized enterprises which will form the greatest employment potential now and in the future.

Connexions.

Connexions is a new youth support service for thirteen to nineteen-year-olds. It is planned to be phased in after 2001 following a number of pilots.

The service will:

*  integrate existing careers advice and support services for young people into a coherent and improved framework.
*  create a single point of access for young people to currently fragmented service provision.
*  provide personal advisers to give advice and guidance on learning and careers choices and to help young people overcome any barriers to successful transition into adult life.

The role of the personal adviser is pivotal in the Connexions proposal and the Government hopes to see the initiative create a comprehensive, consistent and coherent strategy bringing together the currently very fragmented set of agencies operating nationally, regionally and locally.

Local delivery will be by way of a combination of statutory and voluntary organisations. Overall the aims of Connexions are:

  • increase participation in learning up to the age of nineteen.
  • improve retention and achievement for all students.
  • promote social inclusion, and
  • provide effective support and advice to overcome obstacles to learning.

National Training Organisations (NTOs).

There are now over seventy NTOs and the Government has indicated that they are pivotal to the success of the new arrangements after April 2001. The NTOs are already involved in setting the occupational standards for work-based qualifications and have a major role to play in developing the occupationally specific route in the new national curriculum framework, that is Curriculum 2000, and will obviously liase closely with the Qualifications Curriculum Authority (QCA). In addition the Government has given strategic guidance for NTOs that they should produce sector Workforce Development Plans (WDPs) by March 2001. WDPs will be seen as a key link between the employers and the Local Learning and Skills Councils and employers will need to articulate skill needs to the Council.

University for Industry

The University for Industry (UfI) was created before the structures proposed in the White Paper and has already begun to establish its own structures and systems. There are now nearly seventy Ufl development centres with the prospect of a thousand new Ufl learning centres being launched by September. The hope is that the UfI will become one of the major, if not the major, focus for open learning in the UK. The main challenge confronting Ufl is how its existing and still evolving structures will fit in with the proposed new arrangements.

Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).

The Regional Development Agencies were again established before the proposals to create the new structures from April 2001. Eight RDAs were established in English regions from 1st April 1999 and a further one, in London, on 1st April 2000. RDAs will be Government sponsored public bodies with boards that are business-led and which reflect the perspectives and needs of each region and the main interest groups within each region. The membership mirrors very closely that of the proposed Learning and Skills Councils. RDAs will play a critical role in taking forward the national skills agenda and will be required to produce a skills strategy as part of their regional economic strategies. More specifically, the stated purposes of an RDA are:

  • further the economic development and regeneration of its area.
  • promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness in its area.
  • promote employment in its area.
  • enhance the development and application of skills relevant to employment in its area, and
  • contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK where it is relevant to its area to do so.

The key question is how the work of the RDA will link with the Learning and Skills Council and the Local Learning and Skills Councils and how the information on, for example, training needs analysis and demand will be identified and communicated to all the appropriate and relevant partners.

The Local Learning and Skills Councils (LLSCs).

As mentioned, there will be forty-seven of these and they will be the main conduit of funding from the Learning and Skills Council, which will be based at Coventry. They will be demand-led and will allocate funds to a range of providers (see figure 2). The boundaries of the Local Learning and Skills Councils have already been determined and many of them are co-terminus with existing TEC areas or groups of TECs. A great deal of discussion, as the Bill passes through Parliament, is over how the discretionary 10 to 15% of the monies allocated to a local LSC will be managed. The fear is that there will be a whole range of practices introduced across the country that could lead to similar difficulties that the TECs experienced. Another interesting issue is how providers who have traditionally done business beyond their immediate locality will be recognised and funded. How such private providers, colleges and national employers will operate under the new arrangements is still not clear nor how the monies will be channelled to the specific providers from more distant Local Learning and Skills Councils. LSCs will also be required to establish Quality Improvement Units, which will work closely with other quality assurance agencies and consider reports from Ofsted/ALI, Area Inspections and Auditors, which will be assessing providers’ performance.

Local Learning Partnerships (LLPs).

Again the Local Learning Partnerships were created before the pronouncements in the White Paper. Many have already been established but possess a very wide difference in membership and scope. For example, some of them include university staff but equally perplexing is that at present the LLPs are not statutory bodies. The role of LLPs are;

  • to connect with local communities and assess their needs
  • to provide the local LSCs with information about youth, adult and community learning needs and equally importantly information on employer skill needs.
  • to create a forum and vehicle for collaboration to realise value for money in training provision.
  • to assess and action issues associated with adequacy and sufficiency in local provision.

They will also offer advice to influence and shape the annual plans of the local LSCs.

They clearly are key in the new arrangements as they act as a conduit of funding to the community and to voluntary groups, but again their exact legal status is yet unknown nor how their accounting and auditing arrangements will operate if money is being channelled through them from their Local Learning and Skills Council to community organisations. There clearly needs to be a more precise framework on how these partnerships are configured and their legal and accounting responsibilities need to be clarified.

This very brief overview of the new proposed landscape for post-sixteen education and training, has attempted to show the main players and to highlight the many questions still remaining unanswered. How will they link, realise greater harmonisation, reduce bureaucracy and bring about a greater cost effectiveness to begin to create the right environment to improve employability and employment prospects for future and current workers, is still a big question. The exclusion of universities and HE most certainly will cause difficulties in developing a consistent strategy for lifelong learning and improving high level qualifications for people. The bifurcated inspection regime involving Ofsted and ALI, will cause problems, particularly to colleges who have predominantly mature students over the age of nineteen.

Many of the proposals in the White Paper are worthy, welcome and timely but if they are enacted without due consideration and care in regard to the transitional and existing arrangements, then chaos most certainly will ensue.

LOCATIONS OF LOCAL LEARNING AND SKILLS COUNCILS   
North WestEast England
Cumbria
Merseyside / Halton
Lancashire
Cheshire
Gtr. Manchester
Workington
Liverpool
Preston
Middlewich
Manchester
Bedfordshire
Essex
Cambridgeshire
Hertfordshire
Norfolk
Suffolk
Bedford
Chelmsford
Peterborough
St. Albans
Norwich
Ipswich
North EastLondon
Tyne & Wear
County Durham
Tees Valley
Northumberland
Gateshead
N'ton Aycliffe
Middlesboro'
Cramlington
Central
North
East
West
South
Camden
Palmers Green
Stratford
Ealing
Croydon
West MidlandsSouth East
B'ham & Solihull
Staffordshire
Shropshire
Hereford & W'str
Black Country
C'vtrv & Warwicks
Birmingham
Stoke on Trent
Telford
Worcester
Sandwell
Coventry
Surrey
Sussex
Oxford, Bucks & Milton Keynes
Kent/Medway
Hampshire/IOW
Berkshire
Woking
brighton
Abingdon
West Malling
Fareham (satellite at Newport)
Reading
Yorkshire & The HumberSouth West
North Yorkshire
South Yorkshire
West Yorkshire
Humberside
York
Sheffield
Bradford
Hull
Devon & cornwall
somerset
Gloucestershire
Dorset
Wiltshire
Gtr. Bristol
Plymouth (satellite at Truro)
Taunton
Gloucester
Bournemouth
Swindon
Bristol
East Midlands
Lincoln / Rutland
Northamptonshire
Leicestershire
Derbyshire
Nottinghamshire
Lincoln
Northampton
Leicester
Derby
Nottingham
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