John Harwood, head of the new LSC, tells Tony Tysome how he hopes to keep the flame of learning burning bright
A mayor of Curitiba in Brazil had a vision for lifelong learning that has left a lasting impression on John Harwood, chief executive designate of Britain's biggest post-16 education and training organisation.
Rafael Greca de Macedo so believed in the notion of local "beacons of learning" reaching out to the community that he placed a lighthouse on top of every library.
Mr Harwood, who takes charge of the Learning and Skills Council from the autumn in preparation for its launch next April, is not about to spend part of his Pounds 6 billion LSC budget on lighthouses. But he believes the message Curitiba's mayor was beaming out to the local population - that learning is for everyone - is one that must inspire the actions of the LSC and its 47 local councils.
"He had an agenda that was about stimulating the process of learning. We need to see how we can inspire and unlock that desire for learning that you see in other countries. In too many places in this country that flame has died," he said.
Over the next few months, Mr Harwood faces the daunting task of consulting key post-16 stakeholders on how to bring about a smooth transition to the new system and "how it is going to happen and who is going to do what".
With the Learning and Skills Bill gaining its Royal Assent this week, there is a sense that he is gearing himself up as he declares: "It is a hugely important area affecting millions of people. We have to ensure that we do not lose existing momentum."
Certainly the timetable for consultation and transition is going to be tight. The apparent tidiness of creating a single funding and inspection system for post-16 education and training hides a potentially bewildering complexity that could become very bureaucratic and expensive. The Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils may be disappearing, but the central LSC and its 47 local councils will not only have to work out roles and relationships among one another, but also among regional development agencies, employers, local learning partnerships, national training organisations, local authorities, colleges, private training providers, the University for Industry, universities and higher education colleges, Ofsted, and adult education and training agencies.
Jacqui Henderson, chief executive of the TEC National Council, which condemned eleventh-hour changes to the Lifelong Learning Bill to give the secretary of state power over the future use of TEC assets, said it would be important in creating the new sector to get the balance right between national and strategic objectives and local needs.
The government has said it expects to save millions of pounds with the abolition of the TEC administration. But employers are concerned that some of the good work done by TECs could be undone in the process.
Ms Henderson said it was important to "be clear about what is best out of what there is now and ensure none of that is lost in seeking to tackle areas where it's not working so well."
Chris Hughes, chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency, sees more opportunity than threat in the reforms. The first question will be whether the LSC can create a single national approach to lifelong learning, rather than presiding over 47 separate ones.
"There is potential for a dramatic re-drawing of the map. I think there is an opportunity for really looking at how many institutions there are and who does what. There is plenty of room for some hard work on clarifying roles and responsibilities," he said.
David Melville, FEFC chief executive, speaking to The THES before Mr Harwood's appointment, said that the creation of the new regime would make the business of map re-drawing much easier. New area inspection reports will allow direct comparisons between all public and private post-16 education and training providers, giving LSC chiefs vital information about value for money and quality.
Professor Melville said: "In the future the LSC will receive those reports and it will be responsible for subsequent action that might include rationalisation or the creation of new institutions."
The prospect of an LSC using inspection information to intervene in this way is unlikely to go down well with college chiefs. John Brennan, director of FE development for the Association of Colleges, said FE heads were hoping the LSC would adopt a "light touch", rather than creating a "bureaucratic and interventionist culture". Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said he was disappointed with the bill even though there was much potential in the creation of the LSC. There was a danger that the needs of adult learners would be a low priority, he said.
"The logic of the policy and the focus of the LSC is to create a lifelong learning structure and yet, when you look at the text of the bill, the priority for young people's needs reads like business as usual," he said.
There is general recognition, however, that the biggest challenge facing the LSC will force it to reach out to the community as well as to forge effective links with other learning providers and organisations. Mr Brennan pointed out that the LSC is the first agency to have a statutory responsibility to promote learning, as well as to see that systems are in place to deliver it. The LSC may have to shuffle priorities to bring about a culture change in the sector.
Mr Brennan said: "There are some critical components to this: one is simply raising awareness of the benefits of learning, another is giving individuals and employers the right kind of support. Some of that is about information and guidance, while some is about providing financial and practical support such as child care, transport and equipment."
Mr Harwood said:"We need to look behind the institutions and beyond the process and look at the culture of learning and how we can stimulate demand. I understand there are systematic inhibitors - maybe physical, maybe psychological. We have to ask what levers we can pull to overcome these barriers."
NEW FUNDING PLAN MEANS MONEY WILL FOLLOW LEARNER
Funding institutions and agencies had until last month to respond to two papers from the Department for Education and Employment proposing a funding system under the Learning and Skills Council.
The proposed system is intended to be demand-led, with money following the learner, as well as simple and flexible.
The LSC's expected budget is more than Pounds 6 billion. Notice of its grant for the financial year will be issued each November in a guidance letter from the secretary of state. It will set out assumptions made in deciding the level of grant, including assumed budgets for young people and for adults.
The LSC will be expected to produce an annually updated "map of demand" for learning, relating to government targets and information collected from local LSCs and regional development agencies.
The LSC will also produce an annual three-year rolling corporate plan, describing national priorities and skills needs. A supporting operational plan will set out details of the LSC's budget for each objective, including target learner numbers. Local LSCs will decide the destination of most of their funds. They will gauge demand using plans submitted by local providers and councils and collect data themselves. They will also publish an annual statement of needs and priorities.
Most payments to providers will be structured and priced using a simpler formula than the FEFC system. Programme delivery costs will determine most formula funding, but other elements, such as geo- graphical location, will be considered.
Up to 15 per cent of funding will be outside the formula, allowing LSCs to target local priorities.
The DFEE's proposals for a post-16 inspection regime have been put out for consultation.
Ofsted's inspection remit will be extended to cover further education for 16 to 19-year-olds, while an Adult Learning Inspectorate will be created in April with responsibility for post-19 education and training.
It is proposed that Ofsted and the ALI should work together on inspecting colleges and making area inspections of all 16-19 provision within their remit.
The consultation paper proposes that inspectors should evaluate the quality of teaching, training and learning; educational standards achieved; resources and learner support; courses; access; and value for money.
Providers will be able to correct factual errors in inspection reports before they are published and will be expected to draw up action plans to address weaknesses.
Inspectors will be required to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching, courses, guidance and management.
The Times HigherJJuly 28J2000analysis 9 news team