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Further Education

Volume 493: debated on Monday 1 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (1) what assessment he has made of the effect of the change in functions of the Learning and Skills Council on the role of specialist independent post-16 colleges; (275805)

(2) what guidance he has given to local authorities on support for the functions of specialist independent post-16 colleges; and if he will direct local authorities to guarantee funding streams for such colleges.

I have been asked to reply.

Independent specialist providers of post-16 education and training play an important role in providing education for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, often with very specific needs and requirements. We recognise the value of having a diverse mix of high quality providers that ensures that our young people are able to access the right course or provision to help them realise their goals and ambitions. We do not feel it is appropriate to centrally guarantee funding streams for particular institutions. Local authorities will need to work in partnership with each other, providers and young people and their families to assess the level of demand in their area and to commission suitable provision that meets young people’s needs.

Provision has been made in clause 40 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill to require local authorities, when commissioning provision, to take account of the quality of provision being secured and encourage diversity in the range of education and training on offer to support learner choice. In addition, in deciding whether education and training is suitable to meet young people’s reasonable needs, local authorities will be required to have regard to any learning difficulties the persons may have.

We believe that the transfer to local authorities will have significant benefits in terms of a more informed and integrated commissioning of their services leading to better outcomes for learners. Arrangements are being developed, in consultation with stakeholders, that recognise that independent specialist colleges will often work across local authority boundaries and nationally, and consideration is being given to the need to minimise bureaucracy for these and other learning providers. These arrangements will feed into the statutory guidance being developed for local authorities in respect of their commissioning responsibilities which the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) will publish when it comes into being in April 2010, subject to the passage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.

We do not expect the YPLA to be involved in the commissioning of learning provision in the vast majority of cases, although there may be some circumstances where it may need to commission provision directly, for instance:

where a local authority is failing or looks likely to fail in fulfilling its duties under clauses 40 and 47 of the Bill to commission suitable education or training;

with a small number of national providers for whom it may be appropriate to commission at a national rather than local level; and

where the sub regional group (SRG) identifies that they are not yet ready to take on the role.

In those cases, the YPLA will need to engage those providers, including specialist colleges, to ensure that they are commissioned effectively in response to the needs of young people.