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What’s to become of Learning Partnerships?


With the Learning and Skills Council now on stream, two organisations find themselves working in very similar arenas, but can they work together?

Learning Partnerships were set up in 1999 with the intention of 'supporting action to widen participation in learning, increase attainment, improve standards and meet the skills challenge'. Established throughout England, the partnerships consist of FE colleges, careers services, local authorities, schools and local employers - and until recently, Training and Enterprise Councils.

The aims of the new Learning and Skills Council are, as set out in the Secretary of State ’s letter of 9 November 2000,are: 'To raise participation and achievement by young people, to increase demand for learning by adults, to raise skills for national competitiveness, to raise the quality of education and training delivery, to equalise opportunities through better access to learning and to improve effectiveness and efficiency'. Some common themes coming through, which is good, but just where does the cross-over of responsibilities begin and end?

From the start, Learning Partnerships have had a local focus. There are currently a total of 204 around England, the majority of which are in the North West, Yorkshire and the South East of the country, but some have been up-and-running for longer than others. They aim to 'co-ordinate local action' by bringing together local representatives from colleges, local authorities, schools and other local organisations. Various reports however question whether some Partnerships are achieving this, with Dr John Brennan of the Association of Colleges quoted in the Guardian as saying less than one third are effective.

With the White Paper in 1999 also heralding the birth of the Learning and Skills Council, Learning Partnerships could be forgiven for thinking the ground had shifted before they'd even got going. The government however is determined to back the Partnerships, with extra funding of £10 million announced by Malcolm Wicks last month to support the work of the Partnerships beyond 2002. The government's view is that 'the respective roles of Learning Partnerships and local Learning and Skills Councils are distinct but complementary. The local Councils will need to be informed by an understanding of local labour and learning market needs – Learning Partnerships are well placed to provide that. The national and local Learning and Skills Councils also need local providers of education and training and other interested parties to work collaboratively as part of the agenda for change and improvement; the Learning Partnerships can make that happen.'

On a recent visit to the Sunderland Learning Partnership Mr Wicks said: "Learning Partnerships are vital if our vision of a learning society is to become a reality. They are doing excellent work, especially in providing effective advice and guidance to adults and improving the levels of basic skills. We are keen to encourage and support them, but they need to be prepared for the challenges that we face from the new knowledge economy. Learning Partnerships can be at the cutting edge if they continue to harness innovation to develop local solutions to local problems. We want them to boost collaboration in planning and delivering learning opportunities and in driving up quality. In particular we want Learning Partnerships to work with the local Learning and Skills Council on plans to rationalise provision and avoid wasteful duplication."

And this last could be the crux of the issue. If there's duplication of effort, who loses - the Partnership or the local arm of the LSC? It seems likely that where Learning Partnerships have been successfully established, they'll be able to provide a useful if not vital link to the local arms of the Learning and Skills Council. Where Partnerships have yet to be fully established, their future is less clear.


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