Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Policy update

The Tories are working hard to place themselves as the champions of FE and sixth form colleges, acknowledging the vital role they play. Anna Cole looks at their policy proposals for post-16.

The Conservatives proposals for colleges, similar to their plans for schools, include supply-side reforms to both provision and funding. Under a Conservative government, new FE providers (private companies as well as the voluntary and charitable sector) will be encouraged.

They claim this will stimulate competition, attract more people into learning and create a 'virtuous circle' whereby successful providers who attract more learners will receive greater funding while those attracting fewer learners will have a powerful incentive to raise their standards. ASCL members may well be concerned how this will this fit with the partnership working that ASCL supports and which is essential for success of the 14-19 reforms.

Under the Conservatives, FE funding will be administered through a newly created Further Education Funding Council for England (FEFCE) (in place of the proposed Young Peoples Learning Agency and Skills Funding Agency which are soon to replace the LSC). The Conservatives say too much bureaucracy is restricting the sector's ability to diversify and innovate and they promise a move towards greater self-regulation, handing over all monitoring and regulating to the FEFCE.

The Conservative plans for careers education and information, advice and guidance (CE/IAG) include funding a careers adviser in every school and college in England, a new all-age careers advice service and a web-based skills matching service. But there is scant detail on how this will be achieved. ASCL is currently involved with civil servants and ministers over the new CE/IAG regulations in the Education and Skills Act 2008.

A Conservative government will need to fill in the details of how this policy will work in practice. For instance, how will they make sure young people do not get lost between youth and adult learning? Who will fill the posts of the planned careers advisers and what training will they receive?

Another major plank of Tory reforms for colleges is the proposal to expand real apprenticeships - for 'real', read 'workplace'. David Willetts, the shadow secretary of state for innovation universities and skills, says that under his government apprenticeships will be employer-led and it will be easier for employers to take on apprentices.

They say they will create 100,000 additional apprenticeships annually as well as fully funding 77,000 apprenticeships that are currently part-funded. Money will come from refocusing Train to Gain and will be administered through the FEFCE. However, ASCL has real concerns that, in the current economic climate, it will be difficult for employers to provide sufficient apprenticeships leading to the question of whether, at least in the short term, colleges need to provide programme-led apprenticeships.

Anna Cole, ASCL parliamentary specialist

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