Positive changes for post-16 sector

November 19, 1999

In its third parliamentary session, new Labour has broadened its educational focus from schools to post-16 education. The changes planned will be sweeping.

The Further Education Funding Council for England has been a success and will heavily influence the new learning and skills council. But as Keith Scribbins and Caroline Mager point out in our section on further education (pages i-iv), the balance between learning for pleasure and learning for work will continue to be contested.

Heavy employer influence on local learning and skills councils will mean a strong voice for an instrumentalist model of FE. If this encourages smaller employers to make more use of the services of FE colleges, all to the good. There is enormous potential for useful cooperation between regional development agencies, learning and skills councils, the University for Industry learning centres and colleges. Such collaboration, providing, for example, customised training for local employers - including inward investors for whom workforce skills are a key attraction - will be crucial to regional success, particularly in depressed areas.

Reduced youth unemployment may be stalling increases in post-16 full-time participation (page iii) but clever employers will make sure the young people they hire go on studying part-time. Once there, it is up to colleges to inspire students to keep learning throughout life rather than just clocking up the skills the boss requires.

The Queen's Speech was longer than most and promised a heavy legislative load. There was no joy for universities, which got less of a mention than the Danish royal family. But bills on racial discrimination, disability rights and freedom of information will affect the whole of post-compulsory education. The coming months will show how deep and wide the effects will be.

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