The sector has six miles of the "opening up the market" marathon left to go, but must maintain pressure to reach its objectives, according to the Chair of the Association of Learning Providers

Martin Dunford, Chair, ALP and Chief Executive, The Training and Business Group said at the ALP conference last week: "I believe the finishing line is in sight, but let us ensure we do not fall at the last hurdle: and before someone criticises my illustration let me make it quite clear that in this marathon race there are those who will have no reservation, if they feel it necessary, in erecting one, two or three rows of hurdles in the last hundred metres," he said.

Speaking on the subject of a single, inclusive FE system, Martin told delegates that proposals "kicked off in real terms" as a result of Sir Andrew Foster's report in November 2005.

Following Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Department for Education and Skills (DfES) discussions, a joint DfES/LSC proposal was published earlier this year, although the results are still awaited.

"Let us be quite clear," said Mr Dunford. "An open and increasingly demand-led market represents the means to drive up the effectiveness of the government-funded skills provision for the benefit of learner, employer, the economy and taxpayer alike. It's also, of course, the right answer for effective, focused and continuously improving providers "“ of all types."

He said that there was, however, little evidence of closer working relationships between JobCentre Plus and the LSC, with the ALP preferring training to the JobCentre's "find them a job" stance.

Dave Simmonds OBE, Director of Centre for Social and Economic inclusion, confirmed this view. "There hasn"t been a real clarity of purpose, when it comes to delivery, when it comes to making a difference. We still have a real problem," he said. "Unless DWP and the LSC are brought closer together I don"t think we"ll get the kind of continuity we need to deliver a basic skills agenda," he added.

In a demand led-market, skills, knowledge and training are personalised for the learner and customised for the employer, rather than being standardised. The market is less regulated and not necessarily funded, where as planned markets are streamlined, more regulated and mostly funded.

Mary Curnock Cook, OBE, Director, Qualifications and Skills Division, QCA, commented on the single FE system, "I"m pleasantly surprised how quickly this seems to be taken up. An open market and competitive tendering does seem to be increasingly a reality."

Rob Wye, Director, Strategy and Communications Group, LSC, said: "We intend year on year to put more of our provision through the tendering process. There have been glitches around the PQQ (Pre Qualification Questionnaire). The challenge is to keep up the good work and do more. We should be looking forward with optimism and try and reduce the hurdles along the way."

Annabel Hardy

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