From education to employment

Ruth Kelly, Chris Banks & John Cridland comment on the long awaited Foster Review

Sir Andrew Foster announces his long awaited review of FE Colleges today, “REALISING THE POTENTIAL: A review of the future role of further education colleges“.

The Foster Review highlights the need for improvement in college leadership, a dedicated focus on vocational skills and work based learning to improve the future skills for the country.

The report calls for a clear purpose and role for FE colleges focused on improving employability and supplying economically valuable skills.

Fosters recommendations include:

  1. A single inspectorate and tougher approach to failing colleges with colleges encouraged to be more competitive to attract students.
  2. Colleges to listen more to learners views.
  3. Colleges to improve their response to the needs of local and regional employers.
  4. Revitalised workforce reform and leadership development to include developing vocational expertise.
  5. Colleges to promote their role better locally.
  6. Funding incentives to encourage colleges to develop vocational specialisms
  7. Management systems and accountability to be simple and clear with a lighter centralised control.
  8. Funding based on needs and resources.

Education and Skills Secretary Ruth Kelly said:

“This report marks a once in a generation opportunity to reform and invest in our historically undervalued Further Education sector. I welcome Sir Andrew’s Report and agree with him that colleges need a clearer purpose, improved leadership and a sharper focus on the specific needs of learners and business. To realise the potential that the report describes will allow colleges to achieve their rightful place as the engines of economic progress and social mobility.

“FE colleges have a vital role to play in keeping young people engaged in education and training. They must also help the millions of adults without qualifications in literacy and numeracy, supporting them to gain the skills and qualifications for productive, sustainable employment and to keep progressing on as far as their talents and interests can take them.

“It is right that we prioritise college funding on these priority groups and ask those who can afford to pay to contribute more to the cost of their courses. For the increased investment in FE to continue we need better quality teaching and higher standards. There need to be tougher penalties for colleges which fail their students and a new approach to assisting students to complete their courses. We also strongly support Sir Andrew Fosters call that we continue to eradicate the unnecessary bureaucracy which will further release resources for the front line. We need to build a dynamic, responsive FE college network that meets the needs of employers, drives up productivity and improves the employment prospects of learners.”

Chris Banks, Chairman of The Learning and Skills Council said:

“Sir Andrew’s report is a useful contribution and clearly makes the crucial link between the FE sector and the ability of this nation to compete successfully in a global market. It articulates the need for higher quality provision, linked to innovative delivery for both employers and individuals. It endorses many of the aspirations of agenda for change and we look forward to providing a full response to Sir Andrew early in 2006. “

The CBI have responded very positively to the Foster review and recommend to the Government that they take an even bolder step to increase competition by opening up further education funding to any organisation or institution which can deliver the best training regardless of their public or private sector origin. John Cridland, Deputy Director-General of the CBI, prompts the Government to open up funding to specialist Training Providers “when it comes to addressing these shortages taxpayer-funded FE colleges perform less well, in employers eyes, than privately-run facilities.”

“Three-quarters of employers (76 per cent) were satisfied or very satisfied with private providers compared to 46 per cent with state ones, the survey said. Ninety one per cent of employers have used private training providers compared to only 42 per cent who have used FE colleges for training. Smaller companies are least likely to work with FE colleges because of the difficulties in obtaining bespoke training (just ten per cent of SMEs have FE links compared to 74 per cent who use a private provider). Sixty one per cent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have used a FE college.”The Foster review highlights a confusion within colleges, Cridland goes onto explain the reason behind the college identity crisis.

“FE colleges are suffering an identity crisis and offer a confusing mish-mash of services and standards – so Sir Andrew is right to say they must concentrate on training people for work.

“But while we welcome the introduction of competition, albeit limited, to further education funding, there is a golden opportunity for the Government to go further and open up the system fully to the best training provider, regardless of origin. Years of policy and funding changes have also seen FE colleges lose their focus and question if they should concentrate on workplace skills training, adult education, tackling illiteracy and innumeracy, or addressing other causes of social exclusion.

Mr Cridland added: “Skills are a passport to prosperity so it is essential that any decisions which can improve training are taken, however uncomfortable. It is up to to Government to listen carefully to what Sir Andrew has to say and not duck the hard decisions which need to be made.”


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