Nick Stuart, Director General of Lifelong Learning talks to Individual Learning News

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17th Aug 2000
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The latest edition of Individual Learning News, the free quarterly newsletter reporting on topics relating to lifelong learning, features an interview with Nick Stuart (NS), Director General of Lifelong Learning in conversation with Richard Ingham (RI), the Editor.

The Department for Education and Employment has created a new Directorate of Lifelong Learning which will encompass the responsibility for delivering all the governments post-16 education agenda with a single directorate.

RI: What is the reason for the new arrangements?

NS: I see this as the final dividend from the merger between the Education and the Employment Departments five years ago . It brings together and focuses thinking right across Further Education, Higher Education, training, workforce development, and qualifications and youth policy in a way which I hope will better serve the Government's overall post 16 agenda.

There are two reasons which make the change particularly relevant. First, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), will be a very substantial organisation. It will be outside the Department but working closely with it, with a wide responsibility, not only for FE and training, but for workforce development and Investors in People, and for adult and community education with a remit to advise the Secretary of State on targets and attainment.

With such a wide remit, we could not expect the LSC to organise itself to match DfEE's old organisation. We saw it as important that the Lifelong Learning Directorate in DfEE should more closely reflect the remit that we are giving the LSC.

Refocusing

Second, the LSC itself takes over from the responsibilities of the Training and Enterprise Councils on the one hand and the FEFC on the other, and in addition the responsibility of funding adult education and school sixth forms. As a result, some parts of the Department will transfer to the LSC and others will need to be refocused. Some form of reorganisation was bound to be necessary.

RI: What do you expect to be the relationship between the Department and the LSC?

NS: I want a really close partnership between the Department and LSC, a relationship in which there are no surprises between us and in which policy is developed together. The LSC and the Department will work together to advise Ministers, thus taking account of operational requirements on the ground, - what people think, the bottom-up planning which local LSCs will be undertaking - as well as the policy priorities and needs as seen at national level.

Work-based Training

RI: What do you think will be the earliest and most evident impact of the new framework?

NS: Difficult to predict. For a start, the process of creating effectively a single funding stream is a process that will go on over two years or more. Initially the biggest impact of the development of the broad funding tariff will be on the private providers of training. There is a very big transitional job to be done to take the 72 different TEC systems for dealing with work-based training and the providers of that training, to assess precisely what each implies for providers, to model it and to arrive at a single formula to operate from the next financial year. That, although rather technical, will be something that will have a very particular impact.

Then there is quality. We are creating a new Inspectorate from the merger of two existing Inspectorates. We are consulting shortly on a common framework for inspection to be shared between the Adult Learning Inspectorate and Ofsted and our intention is that there should be from April 2001 a full programme of inspection across the whole range of the LSC's providers - colleges, private training providers, school sixth forms, adult education centres, learning centres of different kinds. I would want the Adult Learning Inspectorate working with the LSC nationally and locally to have an early and accelerating impact on standards.

Employers and Skills

Thirdly, the largest voice in the LSC at national and local level will be that of employers. A key objective is to improve at national and local level the quality of information about employer demand and employer needs that is going into the process of planning for provision.

The work of Chris Humphries' National Skills Task Force will be very influential. A substantial programme of work will be set in hand to make sure that the recommendations of the reports from the Task Force are carried through. So, getting a better demand-led edge to the post-16 arrangements is an important objective. I think that the LSC can and will make an immense difference.

Learning Partnerships

RI: Was the role that Learning Partnerships will play envisaged right from the start?

NS: I think that it has always been recognised that there is a need to develop a mechanism to assist and make more effective local planning across further education, training, work-based training and community and adult education. I think it has been important to try to develop that capacity. I do believe that Learning Partnerships can powerfully reinforce LSCs at the local level and contribute greatly to their understanding of what is needed locally and how to plan for it.

RI: In what way will the new arrangements for the Directorate help to address the broader challenges that face lifelong learning?

NS: It makes it easier and more effective to pull together important themes that stretch right across the entire lifelong learning agenda and that are at present dealt with in unconnected separate policy funnels. I can give you two examples.

Examples

First, skills and how we handle the National Skills Agenda, arising from the range of recommendations of the National Skills Task Force. I have set up arrangements to pull together people from across the directorate to form a task force with a work programme, in order to ensure that our commitments on Skills Agenda are delivered in an appropriate way.

Second, is the debate about wider access, which can be at many different levels. Recently it has been a debate about access into Higher Education from those in lower socio-economic groups or poorer households. But it is of course a very live issue in FE, featured strongly in The Learning Age, on the back of Helena Kennedy's Report, which is about wider participation and breaking down the barriers of access for people who are not learning and who stay outside further education.

So, in this first month of the new arrangements, I have set up another cross directorate task force to pull together all these issues with a remit to develop a programme that makes sure we are addressing the problem consistently and effectively right across lifelong learning.

In these ways and working with the LSC and existing partners, a single Lifelong Learning Directorate can, I believe, contribute more effectively to achieving real progress with the vision of lifelong learning set out in the Learning Age.

This article reprinted with the permission of Individual Learning News. You can subscribe free to the newsletter, and find back issues and the current issue online at

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