From education to employment

Help us shape the future of Further Education

I would like to start by acknowledging all the hard work that I have been privileged to see at first hand in the sector this year. Since being appointed a Shadow Minister in January, I have been delighted to visit many colleges across the country, and to meet sector representatives here at the House of Commons.

I am very grateful for all the warm receptions, kind invitations, and useful information I have been given by so many in the sector, and I hope to be able to visit and meet with many more in the coming months.

In this first article for FE News, I would like to highlight two issues; the first being the consultation that Conservatives are currently undertaking on our proposals for a new Further Education Funding Council (FEFC), its funding model, and skills accounts; the second is bureaucracy in the further education sector.

At the Association of Colleges conference earlier this month, David Willetts, the Shadow Secretary of State, launched our new consultation to further develop the proposals in our 2008 Green Paper. Specifically, views are being sought on the following ideas:

  • “Funding will be administered through a slimmed-down Further Education Funding Council for England”.
  • Support for workplace training to “be delivered through new Lifelong Learning Accounts.”

The system of tariff-based funding as used today has been based on formulae used before the LSC was established. We want to take this as a starting point, but also make some changes to develop a system which is more responsive to what the sector wants, and not necessarily what Whitehall wants. We want our FEFC to be a funding body, not a planning body.

The system could offer a historic allocation, based on a number of students at a set price, with mechanisms in place to encourage a flexible response to changes in demand. One way we can also achieve this is through our proposed lifelong learning accounts.

We do not believe that the Government’s Skills Accounts put power in the hands of learners – they merely repackage existing entitlements. Instead, we have suggested four different ways that they could be delivered.

Following our discussions with the sector, we have also proposed new arrangements for colleges to trade unused numbers with other providers.

We know that colleges are at the heart of local communities, and work hard to provide the courses that businesses want and people need. We want to make this easier, and improve help improve responsiveness to changing demands.

That’s why our approach could also help free the sector from unnecessary burdens. We believe that with one funding body, one audit regime and one improvement body, we could be able to abolish other bodies, mechanisms and paperwork within the system.

Importantly, under our model, the burden of bureaucracy would be swept away. As David Willetts highlighted, over 200 data fields had to be completed per enrolment at one leading college he visited, and providers have told me they employ big teams just for completing paperwork. We hope that this level of administration will not be necessary under a Conservative Government.

We are very much in listening mode. We want to hear the examples of good practice in the sector. We also want to know what can be improved. So please take this opportunity to help us shape the future of further education.

If you would like a copy of the consultation document, you can download it from our website here. I very much look forward to reading the responses.

David Evennett is Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills

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