After speaking for some thirty minutes to the delegates at the Association of Colleges (AoC) 16 "“ 19 Summer Conference in Stratford "“ upon "“ Avon, Dr. Brennan faced a few questions from the floor as they digested his statements regarding their current and future prospects.

Evidentiary Trust

The first matter to rise from the floor, from Thomas Rotherham College, was the matter of the statement by Mr. Adonis regarding his commitment to equalising funding between colleges and schools which had been mentioned by Dr. Brennan. The principal of the college, in the very best tradition of tongue in cheek, said it was "nice to hear" that Dr. Brennan was planning to take Mr. Adonis at his word, and asked whether there was any evidence to support this hope.

This, quite understandably, drew a murmur of sardonic chuckles from amongst the assemblage, which returned once more with Dr.Brennan's statement that, as a scientist by training, he looked for evidence more than simple faith. He stated that he had noticed much in the way of rhetoric from Mr. Adonis, and had yet to see this rhetoric being transformed into commensurate action. The way in which this rhetoric is channelled into actual decisive action is one of the key challenges facing the AoC in the coming months.

The Foster Review

Another point raised, which received widespread support from amongst the educators assembled in their seats, was the matter of the high cost of administration that, it is felt, divert funds from the colleges and learning providers. One delegate wished to know, as a matter of personal opinion, what Dr. Brennan believes the Foster Review will say on this issue, particularly with regards to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC, the government's funding body).

Dr. Brennan was unwilling to be drawn into a direct debate on the future of the LSC, referring to this question as "moving from the sublime to the ridiculous". Instead, he talked in more general terms, mentioning that the government had previously expressed their intention to move much more managerial responsibility to the front line service providers which, it is hoped, would allow the heavy increase in funding under this government to be more efficiently translated into achievements.

Funding for the Future?

Dr. Brennan stressed that it was necessary for the sector to recognise that the current level of funding was possible by the relative prosperity of Britain over the past few years, and warned that the funding envelope was as stretched as it was likely to become. Were the economy to suffer a slight blip then it is all too likely that public funding will be cut somewhat. With this in mind, and remaining obstinately focused upon the general picture rather than the particular case of the LSC, Dr. Brennan stated that the totality of the management and administration side of the sector could stand substantial streamlining, and that this would aid the provision of a better value service.

The final question stayed with the funding question, with D. Matthew from Truro College asking whether there was any chance of improving the projected budgetary allocations for 2006 / 07, or whether this was a fixedly grim picture as painted. Dr. Brennan answered that essentially this was not subject to much amendment, and assured delegates that he had already written to Ms. Kelly, the Minister for Education, warning her of the consequences of any such cutbacks.

Jethro Marsh

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