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Future of FE According to Foster at AoC Conference

Sir Andrew Foster has stood by his review at the same time as attempting to smooth ruffled feathers at the AoC annual conference on Tuesday.

With the popular media erroneously highlighting his recommendation that failing FE colleges should be closed, Sir Andrew Foster today addressed sector professionals at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference.

In his Review into the Future of Further Education Colleges, which was published yesterday, Sir Andrew compared the FE sector to a difficult “middle child”. At times his keynote speech was delivered with the uncomfortable air of a kindly teacher giving that child feedback on a negative school report. “I would describe this as an attempt to be a critical and challenging friend,” he tried to reassure delegates.


Fully half of his allotted time was given up to fielding questions from the floor. Many of these took the form of complaints, but he told reporters at a press conference afterwards that he had actually expected a much more hostile reaction from delegates.

Defending his review, he fell back on the “big issue” that had inevitably informed it: the need for Britain to “upskill” (or as he has phrased it at times, “skill up”) for the good of the economy. He said that education and the economy were “intrinsically” linked, and that there was “an indisputable national/international need to up our skills levels”. This was a point that Lord Leitch had already driven home repeatedly during his keynote address earlier in the afternoon regarding his review of the skills that will be required of the workforce in 2020.

Power of the Sector

In an attempt to soothe ruffled egos and positions, Foster ““ whose background is in public services rather than the FE sector itself ““ paid testament to the power of the sector to change people’s lives. He described many “spine tingling” stories he had heard from people whoose lives had been transformed through positive contact with FE staff, and maintained that “good quality public services are the cornerstone of a civilised society.”

He also conceded (with a nod to a complaint made earlier in the day by AoC Chief Executive Dr John Brennan) that British businesses also need to do their part to ensure the success of the skills revolution. “They have a need to be as pro-active as I have said colleges need to be,” he warned.

Message to Government

His message to the government on FE was simple: less is more. When Daniel Khan, Principal of Grimsby College, complained that colleges had worked hard to implement a succession of different government initiatives, Sir Andrew replied: “The fact that the government has asked you to do so many things is part of the problem.”

At this point the question surely arises as to what the Government’s response would be.

Joe Paget

Find out what the Foster Review really said by clicking here

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