Doubts cast on 'dog's dinner' post-16 bill

February 11, 2000

Serious doubts were raised this week over the government's blueprint for post-16 education.

Both the Liberal Democrats and college principals cast doubt on the proposed funding and planning shake-up set out in the Learning and Skills Bill. A number of opposition amendments were tabled during the bill's committee stage in the House of Lords.

Phil Willis, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, called the bill "skeletal". He fears the new structure, based on a national and 47 sub regional learning and skills councils, would result in the concentration of powers in the hands of government rather than the creation of a system responsive to the needs of learners and employers.

Mr Willis said: "It (the bill) may give the impression of revolutionising post-16 education and training but on closer examination it creates a fog of confusion and division out of which the secretary of state appears with massively increased powers."

Mr Willis also attacked the "artificial" separation of 16 to 19 and post-19 education in the structure. He called the proposed dual-track inspections a "dog's dinner". The government has proposed that Ofsted inspects provision for under-19s and that a new Adult Learning Inspectorate looks at post-19 provision. In practice Ofsted would take the lead in inspections where provision was mixed, as it is in about 90 per cent of general FE colleges.

College principals are concerned about clauses in the bill that undermine institutional autonomy. The Association of Colleges is proposing amendments to address three concerns. The first amends clause six, which colleges fear could lead to fees being set nationally by the Learning and Skills Council. The second amendment aims to curtail the power under clause 11 that allows the LSC to appoint up to two college governors. The third is to schedule eight, clause five, the current wording of which the AoC says would prevent colleges from providing training through subsidiary companies or through partnerships with private firms.

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