Clause 21

Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Qualifications of prinicipals of further education institutions

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I beg to move amendment No. 30, in clause 21, page 14, line 12, at end insert—

‘(1A) In subsection (1) after “principal of further education institution” insert “or Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Council.”’.

This amendment is essentially another probing amendment to ascertain why principals of FE colleges need to have a leadership qualification and why this provision should not apply to others in the sector, particularly those whom the Government think should have the power to dismiss FE principals.

The whole Committee will be aware of the recent story about the LSC’s capability to make managerial mistakes. The BBC reported that some 150 charities say that they are unable to apply for Government money for training schemes because of the problems of the new online computer-based application system. The Minister will not necessarily want to comment on that issue in detail, but essentially the point that I am making is that managerial competence needs to apply across the board; it should not be stipulated for one party and not for another. It seems to me that we want consistency in the Government’s approach. If the Government make these demands of a few principals, they should make them across the board. As I said, this is, by its very nature, a probing assessment.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, who leads for the Opposition, knows that I usually listen intently and respect the points that he puts forward. However, this particular amendment might be described as the cheap shot amendment.

Whichever intermediary body was in place, there would be criticism by providers when they did not get the particular decision that they were looking for. The hon. Gentleman should look at the track record ofthe LSC since its inception, particularly under the stewardship of the current chief executive. I do not think that we would have achieved the improvements in success rates that we have seen without the work and the incredibly assiduous overview provided by the LSC.

I would like to address the hon. Gentleman’s proposals specifically. Although I do not denigrate in any way the skills of those in the FE sector, managing the LSC brings different types of leadership challenges. Leading the LSC, which is a multi-site, multi-product, multi-billion pound organisation, requires skills that, frankly, are more appropriate to a major business. I would agree that, although formal qualifications are important, it is the hands-on experience of delivery in complex and challenging commercial environments that the LSC’s national council seeks when it appoints its chief executive.

Requiring the qualification of FE principals is part of our work to professionalise staff in the FE system. It also helps to address the weaknesses in FE leadership that were identified by Ofsted in its inspections and by Sir Andrew Foster in his independent review of theFE system. Going forward, principals have a crucial role in ensuring that colleges respond effectively to the challenges identified by Sandy Leitch. I think that this new requirement is a significant change and to confuse it with the role of the chief executive of the LSC would be wrong.

Therefore I do not consider that it would be appropriate to expand the scope of section 137 of the Education Act 2002 and the regulations made under it to include the chief executive of the LSC. The LSC, when recruiting its chief executive, ensures that the person has the necessary skills to meet the challenges of the role. Indeed the Learning and Skills Act 2000  provides that the LSC’s national council may appoint its chief executive on such terms as it determines. I think that those provisions offer reassurance.

The hon. Gentleman also said that he needed to be reassured about the accountability framework within which the LSC’s chief executive operates. I must say that, as the chief executive regularly appears in my office and the Secretary of State’s office, there is a robust accountability framework in place for the work that he undertakes. I hope that, with that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

None of my shots are cheap, but some are of less value than others. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Cawsey.]

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Seven o’clock till Thursday 14 June at Nine o’clock.