Simon Targett reports from the Training and Enterprise Council annual conference on Shephard's vision of her new super department.
The new Department for Education and Employment is seeking a popular mandate by running a national consultative exercise on its future shape and objectives.
Gillian Shephard, the new Secretary of State for the combined departments, called the new department "a dream come true" and "a once in a lifetime chance to harness the strengths of Britain's deregulated, innovative industrial sector to the strengths of our education system" at the annual conference of the Training and Enterprise Councils in Birmingham last week. To make sure she gets the balance between the vocational and the academic right, she is collecting the views of leading industrialists and educationists on the proposed organisational structure. In a letter sent to key bodies on Friday of last week, Mrs Shephard said that the DFEE would be divided into seven blocks of responsibility which cut across traditional education and employment boundaries. Key policy directorates include one for youth training, further and higher education, and qualifications, and another for employment and adult training policy. Senior civil servants are being invited to "bid" to run these directorates. The deadline for early responses on this structure was Wednesday, and the new super-department is expected to take account of them while integrating functions and making appointments over the summer.
The department has also launched a one-month consultation exercise on its list of three aims and 11 objectives. This is early evidence of its promise to "work in partnership with a wide range of agencies and organisations, recognising that our impact will be greater if we work effectively with others".