Select Committee on Education and Skills Fourth Report


Conclusions and recommendations


Policy direction, current initiatives

1.  The evidence we have received is suggestive of broad support for much of the content of Foster's report and those proposals carried through in the recent Further Education White Paper. Nevertheless, we have heard a range of concerns which suggest that some of the measures being considered have been insufficiently thought through. These include proposals concerned with refining the focus of further education around "skills and employability", the reform of inspection, and making further education more responsive to learners and employers. We also comment on what, in many ways we see as a much bigger issue, which Foster touched on but did not explore to its full extent: the complex and unwieldy morass of planning, funding and stakeholder bodies that overlay further education. (Paragraph 16)

2.  Our intention in this report is neither to complete a blow-by-blow re-analysis of every area covered by Foster, nor to respond point by point to the content of the recent Further Education White Paper. Rather, we have sought to identify those areas which we think are of particular significance and where we felt our inquiry process could add most value. (Paragraph 17)

Further education's organisational overlay

3.  The Government states that, in respect of the regulatory and organisational frameworks for skills, "over time […] [we will] look for further rationalisations which will make it much clearer". This is insufficiently specific and indicates that Ministers are not approaching the problem with the urgency it merits. We intend to undertake an inquiry in the near future on how the overall skills and training framework fits together but in the meantime look to the Government to carry out an urgent review of whether the organisational, planning and funding frameworks for further education and skills, viewed as a whole, constitute a coherent system. (Paragraph 22)

"Skills and employability" as a new focus for colleges?

4.  In order for skills and employability to be a useful guiding principle, the Government needs to spell out more clearly what this might mean for individual providers, especially in terms of what they might cease to provide and areas they would be encouraged to expand in. (Paragraph 31)

5.  Fundamentally, the Government needs to spell out what "skills and employability" actually includes and excludes—for example, whether this refers principally to developing the technical and generic skills relevant for particular occupations (which may be validated by qualifications) or whether it also extends to all learning which could be considered to help people develop the personal qualities and generic "soft skills" necessary for working life. It should be noted that much of the evidence taken emphasised the importance of enabling courses to provide what Chris Banks from the Learning and Skills Council called a "platform for employability". If it is principally the former, then the Government needs to outline a much more convincing strategy for how it will maintain and develop broad range of provision overall, looking at and responding to local needs, as further education colleges rationalise their provision. (Paragraph 32)

Learners

6.  We heard persuasive evidence from Sir Andrew Foster and from the National Union of Students that student representation in colleges is one very important way of improving the quality of provision. We welcome the Government's proposals in this area. We note that a commitment has been made to expand programmes of training for learner representatives. However, since we took evidence from Ministers, the National Union of Students have told us that they are frustrated that the extension of the learner representative training programme has not featured in any of the action plans arising from the White Paper. They argue that a structured implementation programme is needed, and we agree. We therefore urge the Government to make a clear statement on how and and when the expanded training programme will be rolled out. (Paragraph 36)

7.  We also encourage the Government to go further with regard to the arrangements for collecting students' views. It is not yet clear what consequences will follow for institutions if they fail to fulfil expectations placed on them in this respect. We note that there is no suggestion in the Government's White Paper that colleges and other institutions will be compelled to publish annually the results of their student surveys. This is concerning. We were told that in Denmark, institutions failing to collect and publish student views face meaningful financial penalties. While we do not necessarily advocate such an approach for England, we seek reassurance that failure to collect and act upon student perspectives will have real consequences for providers. We also seek reassurance that colleges will be required to publish annually their findings on students' views—and to show what action they intend to take as a result. This is likely to act as a powerful incentive for improving the quality of provision. (Paragraph 38)

8.  The Government says that it will be looking to Ofsted and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that mechanisms for student engagement are reflected in provider development plans. We expect Ofsted and the Learning and Skills Council to come forward with clear proposals in this area and to make explicit how they intend to proceed in this regard. (Paragraph 39)

9.  We think that Government agencies could do more to develop in college leaders the skills and professional outlook necessary to garner meaningful student involvement. We therefore recommend that leadership training programmes (which will become compulsory for new Principals) put particular emphasis on the development of learner involvement in the running of colleges and other types of further education provision. (Paragraph 41)

10.  There is a need to ensure that entitlements to Educational Maintenance Allowances are not being lost because of genuine involvement in representational activities. An initial step would be for the Department for Education and Skills to circulate guidance to local authorities, advising them that the practice of withholding Educational Maintenance Allowances payments in these cases is not acceptable. If necessary, it should also look at amending the reporting arrangements for attendance in relation to Educational Maintenance Allowances. (Paragraph 43)

Employers

11.  While it is right that emphasis should be placed on improving provider responsiveness, a parallel emphasis on improvements employers should make is not always evident. The Government says that it is expecting Lord Sandy Leitch's report to consider in particular the issue of how employer demand for training and willingness to invest in it can be increased. This is very welcome. We expect the Government to act quickly on any recommendations made in this area. (Paragraph 49)

12.  Some Sector Skills Councils—including Skillset and CITB Construction Skills—ask for a levy from employers in their sector. Such levies represent one way of increasing the employer contribution to the costs of developing the workforce. We therefore urge the Government to consider the merits of promoting the more widespread use of levies. (Paragraph 50)

13.  The Government is developing a range of structural supports which are designed to assist in making training more relevant to the needs of the economy and employers, including Centres of Vocational Excellence, National Skills Academies and Sector Skills Councils. National Skills Academies and Sector Skills Councils are at a relatively early stage of their development and so the success or otherwise of these structures as vehicles for the co-ordination and articulation of employer views and needs still remains to be seen. The Government will need to satisfy itself that Sector Skills Councils are effectively articulating the needs of the full range of employers, including small and medium-sized enterprises. It is vital that overlap and lack of co-ordination between different bodies including regional development agencies and regional Learning and Skills Councils does not occur; similarly, Sector Skills Councils must remain alert to the potential of creating overlapping qualifications. These are issues that we will want to address in our forthcoming inquiry into the organisation and funding of skills training. (Paragraph 52)

14.  We welcome the Government's recognition that a more "demand-led" approach is a priority for further education, and the measures it is proposing in this regard. Clearly, such a system is some way off at the moment. (Paragraph 56)

15.  In the medium term, the Government will need to take a step back and review both whether a demand-led system is becoming a reality and, in parallel, remain attentive to any tensions which may develop in the system between those with different needs. Although there is often a good "fit" between the needs of different parties, this is not always the case, particularly in the short term. (Paragraph 57)

Intervention from the Learning and Skills Council

16.  We understand that it is only a very small minority of colleges and other providers that are failing outright. We welcome the Government's explicit statement that the degree of intervention will be directly proportionate to the scale of the problem— with the most severe measures reserved for the small number of cases where there is persistent evidence of long-term failure. However, we do have some concerns about the practical implications of replacing or putting out to competitive tender areas of failing provision within a college—and seek further clarification from the Government on how this will work in practice, especially in areas where there is a single provider and, potentially, few local alternatives. (Paragraph 62)

17.  We see the logic of an interventionist approach to "coasting" colleges, especially if the emphasis in these cases is fairly and squarely on support for improvement rather than on punitive action. The Government says that its proposals to increase the Learning and Skills Council's powers of intervention in cases where colleges are coasting are "in keeping" with the granting of intervention duties to local education authorities when similar circumstances arise in schools. The Government should make sure that the criteria for—and nature of—Learning and Skills Council intervention in cases where colleges are apparently "coasting" is defined with absolute clarity. This is especially important given the Government and the Learning and Skills Council commitment to develop a more "trusting" relationship with providers, as is stated elsewhere in the Further Education White Paper. (Paragraph 66)

Expanding the base of providers

18.  We agree that this situation whereby independent operators cannot contract directly with the Learning and Skills Council for some areas of learning needs to be looked at further and, like the Association of Learning Providers, we welcome moves by the Learning and Skills Council to make public funding more accessible to quality, established independent providers who are able to demonstrate the capacity to expand. (Paragraph 69)

19.  We see no case for not allowing direct contracting with private operators who may have established histories of quality provision, providing they are subject to audit and inspection arrangements comparable with those being considered for colleges. (Paragraph 70)

Inspection, oversight and planning

20.  In our regular sessions with Ofsted, we will be seeking evidence on progress toward the new arrangements to incorporate Adult Learning Inspectorate's activities, and will also be keen to look for evidence of a sustained focus on adult learning and employer-focused provision. We also look to Ofsted to come forward as soon as is practicable with further details of how it intends to incorporate the work of Adult Learning Inspectorate into its future work, including information on the allocation of staff and budgets to adult- and employer- focused work. Moreover, it will be vital that, in support of adult- and employer- oriented provision, the enlarged Ofsted retains operational contact with the Quality Improvement Agency, who will take over some of the developmental activities previously undertaken by Adult Learning Inspectorate itself. (Paragraph 76)

21.  We concur with Foster that the evidence for a headlong rush to an approach based entirely on self- and peer-assessment in the further education sector is not strong, and we would wish to see evidence of more consistent quality before endorsing plans to move in this direction. Building capacity for self-analysis and, in particular, the ability to use the results of such analysis to formulate plans for improvement, is clearly a crucial area, and the Government should offer strong support to inspectorates and other relevant agencies for developing their work in this regard. (Paragraph 80)

22.  We are attracted to the idea of reforming inspection so that it is able to comment on the effectiveness of colleges in meeting local skill needs and the needs of individual learners. If the prime driver for colleges is to be responsiveness to employers' and to learners' needs, then it follows that inspection should judge them on how well they perform in this regard. We also believe that, if developed well, such impact analyses would play a useful role in helping to raise esteem for, and interest in, some areas of adult learning in particular, the value of which it is currently sometimes difficult to objectively measure. The Government should consider, as an initial step, commissioning a feasibility study to assess how the kind of "impact analysis" approach to inspection might usefully be taken forward in light of resource constraints and the imperative to "slim down" the inspection burden. In any event, inspectorates should be given a reasonable time to explore this area and to develop meaningful methodologies rather than being rushed into producing frameworks that in the event add little. (Paragraph 85)

Adult learning

23.  We accept that within limited funding, there are "difficult choices" that have to be made about what is to be supported by the public purse, what must be paid for by learners themselves, and what will be paid for by employers. We put it to Ministers that while investment in their priority areas was welcome, this was leading to unacceptable declines in learning opportunities not just in terms of "leisure courses for the middle classes", but of types of learning which actually contributed to key government priorities—often taking place in communities where there was a great need. Fundamentally, we argue, the dividing line between what is of value—to individuals and to the economy—and what is less so, is nowhere near as clear as is currently implied in government rhetoric. (Paragraph 91)

24.  We understand, and support, the Government's intention to improve the quality and relevance of learning opportunities for those at the very start of their return to education. However, there is no demonstrable evidence that it is poor quality provision or that with the lowest "returns" that has been strategically cut in order to concentrate public funding on priorities and it is disingenuous to suggest that this is so. Rather, we have the impression that reductions in places on some courses have happened swiftly and as the result of funding pressure, rather than conscious, area-level planning. We therefore think that Ministers' confidence about outcomes in this area is misguided. While the foundation learning tier is a very welcome development, we note that it is only to be funded "as resources allow". (Paragraph 92)

25.  Bill Rammell told the Committee that 10% of people doing degrees are doing so through further education. It is important that a priority is placed on strengthening the relationship between universities and further education colleges through such mechanisms as the Lifelong Learning networks and regional partnerships. Colleges and other providers have traditionally been very flexible in terms of responding to new initiatives and changes in policy. Being "fleet of foot" is seen by many as a positive feature of the sector. However, there is a point at which the constant pressure to react to a changing policy and funding landscape undermines stability and puts pressure on long-established, valued provision which suddenly becomes uneconomical to continue to provide. This is a situation which must change. The Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Education and Skills say they are moving to a more stable, long-term approach to funding, especially for the most successful providers. At the moment, though, secure long-term funding is not a reality on the ground and there are even questions about whether it will become the norm for the majority of providers—rather than those who perform exceptionally—in the medium term. (Paragraph 93)

26.  During its first term in office, the Government published The Learning Age, which emphasised the benefits—and the necessity for public funding of—provision for older learners. The Government has told us that it values learning which does not have an immediate economic imperative, but we are concerned about how opportunities in this area will be sustained. The contention that partnership working at the local level will ensure an adequate range of courses is highly questionable given the current resource constraints: this is an area that needs close monitoring. We recommend that the Government, working with the Learning and Skills Council, comes forward with more concrete information on how it expects local authorities, working with the Learning and Skills Council, to fund and plan this sort of provision. (Paragraph 97)

27.  More fundamentally, we recommend that the Government base its decisions on the targeting of funding on much more solid and extensive research than is currently available. This research needs to provide a through analysis of the relative benefits of different types of learning—particularly, what the likely returns of public investment in different types of learning are, and for whom. Only in this way can the Government substantiate its claim that funding is being targeted where it is most needed. (Paragraph 97)

28.  While there may be good reasons for seeking an increased contribution from learners, if this is not achieved in practice, valuable provision could certainly be lost and learners who could benefit from education will not do so. The Department for Education and Skills and Learning and Skills Council need to negotiate a contingency plan to deal with this situation, should it arise. (Paragraph 101)

29.  We are not aware of any substantive research which has been undertaken to assess the risk that more affluent students will replace those who are less well off, and think that this situation needs to be rectified rapidly. We therefore recommend that in Autumn 2006, the Department for Education and Skills or one of its agencies should undertake an impact assessment of how the new fees regime is affecting the overall socio-economic profile of adult learners. Monitoring should continue as the increase to the fee assumption is rolled out, and the Government and Learning and Skills Council should be prepared to take action if the findings suggest problems in this area. (Paragraph 102)

30.  We are not convinced that a coherent funding logic is in place across the education system. We accept that students in higher education are expected to make a significant contribution to the costs of their own learning. However, there is still a difference insofar as the level of public subsidy for places at university does not depend on whether the subject being studied is deemed to be of direct economic benefit; to put it another way, classics is funded on broadly the same basis as engineering, despite the fact that an argument could be made that the latter is more "economically relevant" and in some respects more likely to lead to employment directly related to study. (Paragraph 104)

31.  The announcement made in the Further Education White Paper concerning a new level three entitlement for 19-25-year-olds is very welcome indeed, not least because it addresses a long-standing issue of lack of support for those who, for whatever reason, have not progressed to level three study before the age of 19. (Paragraph 109)

32.  It appears that the entitlements will be designed to soften the blow for those already enrolled on courses rather than attracting significant numbers of new learners. We recognise that there would be serious issues of affordability in extending this scheme to everyone who might benefit from it, and that arguing for additional funding for this scheme while recognising a limited funding envelope would risk displacing funding from other areas. However, the Government needs to bear in mind that the new National Learning Model will have to relate to the 19-25 entitlement, and will also need to reference the entitlements in the "national debate" about "who pays for what". We argue later in this report that this needs to take place as a matter of utmost urgency. (Paragraph 110)

33.  In line with our predecessor Committee's general support for the principle of the original Individual Learning Accounts, we commend the Government's decision to return with new proposals in this area. Given past fraudulent activity, much is at stake in the roll-out of this project but we are partly reassured by the clear and repeated commitments from Ministers that full piloting of the new Learner Accounts will take place before things are taken forward. We cannot stress strongly enough that lessons from the pilots need to be fully absorbed before any plans for the future are made. (Paragraph 113)

Funding for 16-18-year-olds in colleges

34.  We welcome the Government's commitment to narrow the gap in funding between what colleges and school sixth forms receive for the education of 16-19-year-olds; if implemented this will be a very significant development. The Government told us that narrowing the gap further was a high priority, and they must demonstrate this by revisiting the remaining funding gap after the next Comprehensive Spending Review has taken place in 2007, explaining clearly what further action will be taken, and by when. (Paragraph 116)

Workforce development

35.  We very much welcome the commitment in the White Paper to developing and implementing a coherent Workforce Development Strategy for further education. It is rational that having created an industry body for the lifelong learning sector, the Department for Education and Skills has passed responsibility for workforce development issues to that organisation. Delegation of responsibility for the workforce development strategy to Lifelong Learning UK should not mean abnegation of responsibility by the Department for Education and Skills. In particular, the Department for Education and Skills needs to make clear how it intends to monitor progress and should negotiate with the Lifelong Learning UK a clear timetable for the production and implementation of the strategy. This is particularly important given that Lifelong Learning UK is a relatively young organisation. (Paragraph 119)

36.  We welcome the announcement that Centres for Excellence in Teacher Training will be rolled out and await further details on the scale and nature of this programme. Likewise, we support in principle the idea of a standardised requirement for Continuing Professional Development for further education staff, as laid out in the White Paper. However, there are some concerns about the affordability for providers of a 30-hour Continuing Professional Development requirement. What is more, the Government's proposals for the requirement appear to relate to colleges only; other Learning and Skills Council-funded providers, such as voluntary and community groups, work-based learning and Learndirect, are not explicitly referred to. The Department for Education and Skills needs to explain how it expects the Continuing Professional Development requirement to be resourced, and how it intends to apply the requirement to staff in non-college settings. It also needs to clarify how the requirement will apply to part-time and fractional staff, who constitute a large proportion of the further education workforce. (Paragraph 122)

37.  The Government intends to introduce programmes to recruit new managers and leaders from outside further education. We think that programmes like this could have the potential to reinvigorate the leadership of the sector. However, Ofsted told us that in their experience, bringing in fresh talent from business and industry had not always been a clear success. The Government needs to be clear about what contribution it expects external recruitment to make and what particular skills needs such external recruitment programmes will fill. The input of Lifelong Learning UK and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership will be crucial here—not just in terms of implementation but also in terms of designing programmes around the identified needs of the future further education workforce, and the management and leadership needs of the sector. (Paragraph 126)

Workforce data

38.  The Further Education White Paper states that workforce data collection arrangements will in the future be "developed through the work of Lifelong Learning UK." We are pleased to see that this issue is on the Government's radar, but seek clarification on what this means in practice and specifically, who is to have responsibility for collecting and analysing further education workforce data in the future. If, as we believe, responsibility for this is to pass from the Learning and Skills Council to Lifelong Learning UK, we would wish to see evidence that the latter has the operational capacity—and the support it needs—to carry out this task effectively. (Paragraph 129)

39.  In overseeing the implementation of its plans for workforce development, the Government should seek to ensure that the workforce data and analysis that underpins planning takes full account of the work-based learning and adult and community learning sectors. (Paragraph 130)

The Learning and Skills Council as an intermediary between colleges and Whitehall

40.  Those on the ground have not always perceived the Learning and Skills Council to have a worthwhile role and have sometimes questioned whether it is approaching its strategic planning functions in an appropriate manner. Recent reforms contained in the agenda for change have generated goodwill toward the organisation in this respect. We agree with the Minister and with the Learning and Skills Council itself that the planned redistribution to the frontline of £40 million previously destined for Learning and Skills Council administration is a very significant development. Nevertheless, the Learning and Skills Council has much to prove over the coming years—and we will be keeping the implementation of these reforms under close scrutiny. In particular, the Learning and Skills Council has to respond to criticisms of its tendency to make bureaucratic demands over college recruitment, course validation, and local strategies. It should give a very clear indication of its strategic role along with examples of how this will be carried out. It should reinforce its commitment to widening participation as well as strengthening the growing delivery of higher education in further education by fostering much closer links with the higher education sector. It needs to be more proactive in the regions, working closely with effective regional university clusters to tackle skills shortages and identify new needs and trends. The Learning and Skills Council told us that they would provide us with information on how savings had been reinvested, and we look forward to receiving this, along with further details of how they plan to make the organisation leaner and more fit for purpose. (Paragraph 134)

The Learning and Skills Council as a champion for further education?

41.  We think it is appropriate that those at the front line are encouraged to take responsibility for promoting, and standing up for, further education. However, the Learning and Skills Council could play a more active role in this regard. The Learning and Skills Council told us that regular and divisive public disagreements between itself and the Department for Education and Skills are unlikely to take place, and to some extent we understand the reasons for this. However, those at the front line do need to have confidence that the Learning and Skills Council is "on their side". Mature, constructive challenge need not be at odds with the Learning and Skills Council's role as a Government agency—and we would like to see the Learning and Skills Council develop such an approach more visibly. (Paragraph 137)

Improving the relationship between DfES and LSC

42.  We welcome the changes that the Department for Education and Skills and Learning and Skills Council are together embarking on to improve the delineation of their respective roles and responsibilities. Practical measures, such as reducing staffing numbers where there are overlapping functions, and the Department for Education and Skills ceding control of certain operational areas to the Learning and Skills Council are the right way forward. However, a more mature relationship between the two bodies is clearly not just dependent on the practical reallocation of responsibilities; it is also dependent, as Foster said, on creating a greater degree of mutual trust between the Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Education and Skills—and, we would argue, the granting to the Learning and Skills Council of a greater degree of latitude in terms of how it achieves the broad policy objectives which the Department for Education and Skills quite rightly sets for it. This issue is not covered in sufficient detail in the recent white paper despite the need for further reform in this area. (Paragraph 141)

An overall strategy for education

43.  We recommend that the development of a National Learning Model should be an absolute priority for the Government. We welcome the fact that the Government has committed to publish a plan on a three-yearly basis and seek confirmation of when we can expect the publication of the first document. Early action on this area would send out a clear message that the Government had taken seriously the need to better integrate further education into its wider education strategy. The parallel "national conversation" about funding needs to be based on a much clearer research base about where investment reaps the most benefit, and for whom. If such research does not exist, it needs to be undertaken as a priority. (Paragraph 144)

44.  A National Learning Model should also look at facilitating easier transition between further education and higher education and improving the portability of qualifications, via quality assurances from colleges to aid progression, lifelong learning networks and as Robert Chilton said, a "relentless drive to rationalise the learning pathways so that higher education recognises the strength of what is coming to it out of further education". Sir Andrew Foster in his evidence pointed to the need to address the image of further education so that it was a positive one, rather than seen as second-tier to higher education. (Paragraph 145)

45.  Additionally, the national learning and funding model needs to have a direct influence on the process of setting national targets for further education, which exert a strong influence on what providers can realistically offer. It must not be a post-hoc justification of decisions already taken about priorities and targets. If we are to move toward a more demand-led system, it also follows that the national learning and funding model should be arrived at with the real input of individuals, communities and employers. (Paragraph 146)

Ministers as champions of further education

46.  We agree to a very great extent with Foster's findings that historically Ministers and other Government agencies have done far too little to promote the benefits of further education. However, Ministers deserve credit for the steps they have taken recently to speak more loudly, more often, and more positively, on behalf of further education. We were particularly pleased to hear the Minister speak of further education as "probably more life transformational than either schools or universities in terms of where it is taking people from and where it is moving them to." (Paragraph 152)

47.  This is a message that needs to be repeated even more frequently than is currently the case. It is important that the prime responsibility for promoting the achievement and potential of the sector is accepted to lie with Ministers, who, in running broad portfolios, need to make sure that further education is not pushed out of the picture by higher education. Similarly, there needs to be a commitment on the part of the Department for Education and Skills communications directorate to promote accurate and proportionate information about further education, with due regard to the amount of coverage given it, and a commitment to making sure that critical statements are justified. (Paragraph 153)

48.  It was suggested to us that a new position of Minister of State exclusively for Further Education should be created; on reflection, we do not feel the evidence for this is clear cut, especially given the Government's intention to build closer links between higher education and further education. Given the latter, there is some logic in retaining responsibility for both under the one post. However, what is clear—and what is borne out by past experience—is that there is potential for further education to be marginalised in such a broad portfolio and this cannot be allowed to happen in the future. (Paragraph 155)

49.  While we welcome the Government's move to establish a joint Learning and Skills Council/Department for Education and Skills programme board to oversee implementation of the reforms, we will be watching carefully for evidence that this board works in the way that Foster envisaged. We note with some disappointment that the Government appears to have decided not to establish a separate, well-defined user group to advise its programme board, comprising learners, employers and communities, as Foster recommended. We urge the Government to revisit this decision as such a group could have provided useful checks and balances on the implementation process, as well as supplying crucial intelligence on progress on the ground as experienced by the communities, individuals and employers that further education serves. This could also provide an opportunity for further education's users—communities, individuals and employers—to provide direct feedback on the impacts of nationally—established targets and funding methodologies. (Paragraph 158)

Intra-departmental coherence

50.  The intention is that school and college provision will be better co-ordinated and planned, to enable all young people to access to the full range of the new vocational diplomas and an appropriate range of provision at 14-19. It is clear that attention is being paid to policy development in support of this agenda. However, inconsistencies remain between the funding and planning arrangements for schools and further education colleges at policy level which translate into paradoxical, and occasionally self-defeating arrangements locally. We have heard examples of instances where the costs of provision for additional 16-18-year-olds recruited by a college cannot be met while at the same time, the opening of a new academy is being considered for the same area. Further, it is not clear that the expensive and time-consuming process of carrying out Strategic Area Reviews to determine 16+ provision in an area was justified when the conclusions arrived at were sometimes overridden by school planning decisions emanating from outside the Learning and Skills Council. This does not sound to us like the result of a coherent policy which enables sensible local planning. (Paragraph 162)

51.  The Minister told us that the Further Education White Paper would mean that further education colleges could expand provision at 14-19 where there was a local need. We recognise that the announcement of a presumption in favour of expansion for colleges goes some way to levelling the playing field and we hope that this indicates a reigning in of a policy that has traditionally and by default favoured school expansion whether or not this made sense in terms of local needs. The Further Education White Paper also says that local authorities will take over the main strategic responsibility for co-ordinated planning of 14-19 provision. However, we question how a situation where local authorities have strategic responsibility, but are not acting as fundholders will work in practice. (Paragraph 163)





 
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