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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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A new academic year, and soon a new government

SEPTEMBER has seen the start of a new academic year at the end of which there will be a new Government. By then current Government plans to transform 14-19 and adult skills provision will, subject to legislation currently going through Parliament, be in place.

These will see the establishment of a Skills Funding Agency for adult skills with cash for 16-19 provision transferred to Local Authorities from the Learning and Skills Council which will be dissolved. A Young People’s Learning Agency will take on responsibility from the Department for Children, Schools and Families for academies.

During the summer, battle lines were being drawn up ahead of the General Election which must come by next May. These seem to be around public expenditure and so have more than a passing interest to all of us involved in education and training. There is now agreement that public expenditure will have to be cut – the debate is where and how deep. Whichever party wins, if total education expenditure is not protected, but school spending is, then adult, further and higher education can look forward to a gloomy time.

Should they win the election, the Conservatives are pledged to dismantle the new structures for 14-19 and adult skills provision that will then be in place, re-creating a variance of the former Further Education Funding Council. They have also said that they will ‘reduce the number, size, scope and influence of quangos’ : a number of education quangos are in their sights. Tony Blair pledged to “sweep away the quango state” and Gordon Brown called for a “bonfire of the quangos” – but quangos have continued to grow in number and cost. Would Conservatives be any more successful? And during the summer, they announced their intention to remove vocational qualifications from league tables and publish them separately so setting back a decade of progress in securing parity of esteem between high-quality vocational education and academic. Whilst today learning can occur absolutely anywhere – in a classroom, in the home, in the community, on the world wide web - education, along with family support, is possibly one of the most significant influences on an individual’s life chances. It can never be, therefore, a neutral, non-contentious matter and will develop beyond the current academic year dependent on the values that a new Government brings.

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