Employers fear role loss when TECs axed

July 9, 1999

The government's new post-16 education and training framework could undermine progress towards national learning targets, it has been claimed.

Training and enterprise councils fear that the Learning to Succeed white paper, published last week, could mean that government learning targets for 2002 are missed.

Targets include 85 per cent of 19-year-olds with five GCSE at A to C, or the vocational equivalent, and 60 per cent of 21-year-olds with two A levels or the vocational equivalent.

The white paper abolishes TECs effectively in April 2001. Between now and then TECs and other bodies must continue to deliver education and training. But TECs fear that they may be unable to deliver if key staff, many of whom are employers, quit to resume their business interests or seek new jobs.

The TEC national council told government of its fears at the TEC annual conference in Birmingham last week. Mary Lord, director of training and education, said: "Retaining staff during the transition to ensure the continued quality of delivery is high on TECs' agenda. We have been discussing with government a way of really helping TEC staff to see the new career opportunities."

John Gridland, director of human resources at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "There is a real risk. Business must have a role to play in the new framework. If they do not then government must accept that employers will find something better to do with their time."

Many at the TEC conference were concerned that business input could diminish in an overly centralised system.

A national council is to be set up to fund and plan post-16 learning and skills provision. This will have about 50 sub-regional bodies called local councils. The sub-regional bodies will be composed of representatives from business and other sectors.

Graham Lane, chairman of the education committee of the Local Government Association and a government adviser, speaking at a conference seminar, said:

"What we have got to do is get the membership of the boards right on these local councils. Industry should have some democratic way by which local employers have some say (on the councils) otherwise it becomes ... very centralised and just an arm of government and will have no flexibility."

The government admits that there could be conflict between national and regional authorities. Richard Caborn, minister for the regions in the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said that there was the "possibility for conflict" between national learning and skills policy, as expressed by the national council and regional strategies drawn up by regional development agencies.

When local councils draw up their learning and skills action plans they must fit the national framework and policy laid down by the national council. Yet they must also take account of RDAs' regional strategies.

Mr Caborn said: "We will try to make sure that the ownership of the policy is as wide as possible. If there are some conflicts to be resolved then we will have to resolve them."

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has called the new arrangement for post-16 inspection, set out in the white paper, "a dog's breakfast".

The government has said that schools' inspectorate, Ofsted, will take over inspections for all non-higher education 16-19 provision while a new agency will inspect adult learning.

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