Comments are closed. Hey, big spenderOn 1 Apr 2001 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article TheLSC has £6bn to make the Learning Age a reality, but will this be lost inbureaucracy? In this three-page special we look at hopes for its future andoffer a guide to Britain’s new learning landscape. By Elaine EsseryThismonth sees what David Blunkett hails as the most significant and far-reachingreform in post-16 education and training ever enacted in this country. From2 April 2001 the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) takes on the responsibilityto plan, fund, monitor and improve the quality of post-16 learning up to highereducation. TheLSC is a huge body responsible for around 7 million learners and £6bn of publicmoney, and charged with meeting the economy’s short-term and long-term needs.It is also the first time that a public body has had a statutory duty placedupon it to encourage participation in learning. Thenew arrangements are designed as a long-term strategy to help realise theGovernment’s vision of a learning society set out in the Learning Age GreenPaper, published in 1998. Previousorganisational arrangements for post-16 learning have not worked well, says theSecretary of State, “There have been three separate systems, each workingdifferently for the purpose of planning, funding, auditing and inspection.”Focuson quality “Interactionbetween these systems has resulted in incoherence and complexity, andinsufficient focus on quality. “Unhelpfulcompetition and large overheads meant that too little of the allocated funding reachedindividual learners and employers.”Throughintegration, the new system aims to overcome duplication and overlap ofprovision, provide effective co-ordination and strategic planning, with a focuson skill and employer needs at national, regional, sectoral and locallevel. Supportingthe national LSC are 47 local LSCs, each with boards made up of representativesfrom industry and education. LocalLSCs are allocated a budget from the council to pay for most provision througha nationally-determined funding system, but volumes of learning will beallocated locally. Eachlocal LSC also has a significant local initiatives fund which it can useflexibly to meet local needs. At both levels, the success of LSCs will dependon strong partnerships and effective linkages with a wide range oforganisations. Among others, they will need to work closely with the SmallBusiness Service, the Employment Service, the Connexions careers service,Regional Development Agencies, local learning partnerships and – not least –employers. “Iwant the council to engage employers in new ways and for council members, atboth national and sub-regional level, to make strong links with employers,their representative bodies, and sector-based National Training Organisations,”says Blunkett.“Thisnew engagement will help ensure that we have more employers who are betterinformed about, and more actively engaged in shaping our education and trainingsystem,” he says. But how likely is this to happen?RichardWilson, business policy executive at the Institute of Directors, isdisappointed that there are not more employer representatives on LSC boards.“With Tecs, something like two-thirds of their boards came from the businesssector, but with the LSCs, business is in a minority and I think that’s aretrograde step. It’s very important that they listen to what local employersare saying.”GreatercoherenceWilsonviews the combining of arrangements for FE and work-based learning as “a goodmove on the Government’s part” and hopes above all to see greater coherence infunding. “Ihope it will be simpler for employers to understand and approach, because theway Tecs funded work-based training was quite confusing. “Generally,we hope the LSC will be able to raise the proportion of people who havesuitable qualifications, particularly at the intermediate level,” says Wilson.Buthe has concerns about the complexity of the new system and the potential for awaste of money. Wilson’s reaction when he first read the Learning Age GreenPaper was that “it looked like a version of Stalinist central planning”. Hesays, “There are far too many players and I think it needs severerationalisation. I do feel there’s a great danger that a lot of money will bewasted in pure bureaucracy.” NTONational Council is keen to see a post-16 learning and skills infrastructurewhich is clearly demand-led. Policy director Tom Bewick highlights theimportance of the local LSCs. “Theyhave particular responsibility to meet the needs of the local labour market andit’s the first time a body has been under statutory duty to meet the workforcedevelopment needs of employers and individuals in a given area. There’stremendous potential for forging partnerships and funding local provision,” hesays.“Butwe’ve got to find a mechanism of linking employers locally and there’s no easyanswer.” Bewickis also aware of a number of issues surrounding funding which give providerscause for concern. “Wherever you’ve got a major change to the system there’sgoing to be some instability and I know some training providers are not happywith some of the changes,” he says. “Theimportant thing is there appears to be a commitment from the LSC to ensure asteady-state situation when it gets up and running.” HarshcriticismNickMorrissey, chief executive of Seta is one provider who has harsh criticism ofthe new system (see News, page 3). Seta delivers engineering training under theEMTA (NTO for engineering manufacture) Modern Apprenticeship framework tocompanies in the Southampton area. LikeWilson, Morrissey was looking forward to greater coherence on the funding frontand a more level playing field than under the system administered by Tecs. Nowhe estimates his business will face a £200,000 drop in funding in the transitionfrom the old system to the new. “Theway it’s been handled is an absolute shambles. We’ve been asked to put ourbusinesses on the line and sign contracts without fully knowing the financialimplications and what’s going to happen next if the risk is high. “Themechanism is not well thought-out, they haven’t consulted on the detailsufficiently and it’s a mess,” Morrissey says. “The DfEE has taken on far morethan it can cope with.” Themain problem is that the new funding rates will not kick in immediately so acomplicated system of cushioning and damping, based on 1999/2000 figures, hasbeen devised to protect providers who would be worse off or better off,respectively, under the new system. Seta will suffer because its performancedramatically improved during 2000/2001. Seriousproblems“Ironically,cushioning and damping was supposed to stop putting people out of business, butit’s going to mean serious problems for many providers in the next 18 months totwo years,” Morrissey claims.Moreover,extra demands of the new Modern Apprenticeship framework have immediate impacton providers, but the funding is not there to follow. “It doesn’t make sense atall. There’s no joined-up thinking,” says Morrissey. “Forsure, training providers are going to go out of business and there are going tobe people who won’t go for contracts. Inevitably that’s going to mean areduction in training. I suspect that’s not what the DfEE wants: it just hasn’tunderstood it.”Thoseproviders who do remain in business will be subject to inspection by the newAdult Learning Inspectorate (ALI). The Government has made it clear that itwill play a key role in driving up standards and influencing LSC plans throughits findings. DavidSherlock, chief executive and chief inspector of the ALI, held a similar rolein the former Training Standards Council. He is looking forward to inspectingeducation and training provision in a much wider range of contexts. “It’sa huge jump from where we were. A particularly interesting change to me is thatwe’ll be taking in much more community-based learning and that will take usinto contact with more people who were previously excluded,” he says. “Secondly,we can now inspect privately-funded provision at the request of industry as aconsultancy service, which is very exciting. We’re already talking to onepublic company about that. We’ll be talking to the CBI and Institute ofDirectors about it and publicising it as our capability of doing it grows.” TheALI has also been asked to inspect, on a cost recovery basis, competency-basedawards overseas where they have been promoted by British Training, now part ofthe British Council. TransformingperspectiveThegreat increase in the remit of the inspectorate transforms the whole perspectiveof inspection from something that was only about the public funding ofrelatively few people to something which could now encompass the whole of adultlearning, where the estimated total spending is around £20bn a year. “Industryspends roughly three times as much as the public purse does, so the scope ispotentially extraordinary,” says Sherlock. Therewill be little change in the conduct of inspection under the ALI. Provisionwill be graded on a numerical five-point scale which providers currently usefor self-assessment. Butthere will be a sharper emphasis on the learning experience and less so on theorganisational context. “Thecommon inspection framework majors on the big questions like, ‘how well dolearners learn – and why?’ It should also enable us to dig out more of the‘whys’ which allow people to adopt good practice,” says Sherlock.Costeffectiveness and value for money will also be a big issue. It is unclearwhether providers who deliver work-based training for young people, which is paidfor by the LSC, and for adults, which is funded by the Employment Service, willbe subject to separate assessments. Sherlockbelieves, however, that it will be possible to make a summary judgement on thequality of each type of provision for the benefit of the relevant funding body,based on what the provider’s contract is intended to achieve. Accordingto Sherlock, providers have nothing to fear from the ALI’s routine inspectionprocess. “Inspectionis not a punishment for bad practice nor is absence of inspection a reward forgood practice. “Ihope employers and training providers will come to feel that inspection by theALI is part of their quality assurance regime and welcome what we have to do asa contribution to a ‘right first time’ philosophy which they themselves wouldwant to apply.”Who’sout – and who’s inAnat-a-glance guide to the reforms in post-16 provisionOUT:Tecs and FEFCIN: Learning and Skills Council TheLSC is responsible for the planning and funding of all post-16 education andtraining. Its responsibilities include: –FE colleges– School sixth form– Work-based training for young people– Workforce development– Adult and community learning– Information, advice and guidance for adults– Education business linksOUT:Training Standards CouncilIN: Adult Learning Inspectorate TheALI will carry out all inspections previously conducted by the TSC andFEFC. Its remit covers all post-16work-based training, including:– Education/training which contains an element of workplace experience– All adult learning in colleges– Provision by the UfI’s learndirect– Learning in prisons– Community-based learning– New Deal provision– All work-based training for adults TheOffice for Standards in Education will inspect learning provision for youngpeople in schools and colleges through to age 19. The ALI and Ofsted will workto a common framework and carry out joint inspections as appropriate. OUT:Further Education Development Agency IN: Learning and Skills Development Agency Feda’sremit has been widened to work across the whole post-16 range and not justfocus on FE. The organisation has changed its name to reflect this. It has beentasked with carrying out research into work-based training and has establisheda new centre for learning and skills research at its headquarters.OUT(by April 2002): Network of 73 NTOsIN: Smaller network of up to 30 sector bodies Consultationis under way to rationalise the current NTO structure and develop a network offewer, larger sector bodies better able to represent employers’ skill andtraining needs (see ‘NTOs await their fate’). OUT:National Advisory Council for Education and Training TargetsTherole of Nacett as an employer-led body advising Government on settingeducational and training targets and promoting lifelong learning has beenhanded over to the LSC. OUT:Welsh Tecs and FEFCWIN: National Council for Education and TrainingChangesin Wales arise from the Education and Training Action Plan for Wales. Regionalarms of the National Council will contract with community consortia for theprovision of education and training in the country. Arrangements for Scotlandand Northern Ireland remain the same. NTOswait to learn their fateAsthe new learning and skills arrangements come into force, a major consultationon the future of the National Training Organisation network concludes on 12April 2001. TheNational Skills Task Force endorsed the important role of NTOs in its finalreport last year, yet highlighted the need for considerable change to thenetwork to make it effective within the new structure. TheGovernment aims to put in place this spring a framework for fewer, larger,stronger and better-resourced NTOs which will have solid employer backing. Thenumber of sector-based bodies has reduced from around 180 Industry TrainingOrganisations, Lead Bodies and Occupational Standards Councils to 73 NTOs. Thisfigure is expected to come down to between 20 and 30 by April 2002. Althoughthe eventual number of recognised sector bodies has not been prescribed, theconsultation document suggests a minimum sector workforce coverage of 500,000people per NTO. Currently 42 NTOs represent sectors with below that number ofemployees. TomBewick, policy director at the NTO National Council, welcomes the Government’sconsultation and has been charged with drawing up proposals for fewer sectorbodies. “Wehave no problem with Government’s vision and commitment to very strong andpowerful sector bodies and agree that a degree of restructuring is necessary,but we haven’t got to lose the important diversity that exists in employmentsectors. “NTOshave come an extremely long way since they were conceived back in 1996 but,given that the whole institutional post-16 map has changed beyond recognition,we have to respond to that positively in a way that gets the best deal foreveryone.” Bewickwill be coming up with proposals that maintain employer involvement and step upto the higher strategic agenda Government is seeking. “Government clearly wantsbodies which are far more influential in articulating the skill needs ofsectors, leading action on workforce development and training issues as well asregularly auditing and reviewing how well the sector is doing,” he says. Anumber of existing NTOs feel ill-equipped to fulfil those roles, claims Bewick,who is striving for a more rational structure which on the one hand satisfiesthe Government and on the other “ensures that the needs of employers and theeconomy are in the bloodstream of the LSC”, he says. Modelsthat Bewick has been exploring include turning the current 15 NTO groups intolegal entities to become government-recognised “super-NTOs”. Heis also studying the Canadian and US systems. Canada set up 26 sector councilsseven years ago with initial pump-priming funding from the Government. Nowemployers and unions are collectively taking over responsibility for fundingthem. In the US, 15 national skills standards boards made up of business peopleoversee the setting of occupational standards. “Wewant to be proactive and take positive proposals to the Government,” saysBewick. “Werecognise the concerns and fears of our 73 members, but we’re absolutely determinedto show leadership and make proposals with our members’ backing on what thefuture structure should look like and move forward sensibly,” he says. Related posts:No related photos.