Master plan for new post-16 council is unveiled

March 23, 2001

The scale of the task facing the new Learning and Skills Council became clear this week as chief executive John Harwood unveiled his master plan.

The LSC, which officially takes up the reins of the post-16 sector from next month, will have to tread a narrow line between creating a centrally coordinated system and allowing local flexibility.

With a sector that includes school sixth forms, further education and sixth-form colleges, private providers, employers' training organisations and adult education providers, some have said the LSC will have to work miracles to pull it off.

Before he addressed an "LSC countdown" conference in London this week, Mr Harwood admitted there were risks in trying to replace separate funding regimes with a single £6 billion national system.

However, he added: "I think the tension between a national and local approach is why we have been created. It is to avoid differentiated funding systems for school sixth forms, colleges, work-based learning and adult learning, all of which have different incentives and compete against each other.

"Restructuring something does not guarantee success. We need to do it well and make sure we have local systems that are flexible, but in an integrated way. Our real aim is to have flexibility at a local level but within an integrated funding system that covers everything."

The LSC's key goal is to bring post-16 education and training participation levels in Britain into the world's top ten within ten years. Britain now lags behind everyone except Greece, Turkey and Mexico.

But the first task the LSC must undertake is the smooth transition from the old to the new regime. Mr Harwood compares this with local government reorganisation and college incorporation, but done in "super-fast time". The transition has already cost £17 million.

The next job will be to change the funding system for work-based learning - the area previously covered by the Training and Enterprise Councils, whose contracts run out on Monday.

The biggest issue here will be a shift away from adult learning to funding more 16-18 training. Mr Harwood admits the LSC will have to cushion some of the 25,000 providers in this area.

For the rest of the system, there will be little change in the short term as the Further Education Funding Council system carries on for a final year.

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