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Well, I am not sure how many of us are caught up in the election buzz, or whether it is more of an election snooze... Either way I have not been holding my breath to guess the result, and it is interesting to note that even the pundits are struggling to 'call' this one.

We know that Governments come and go, but we also know that the FE sector will survive and battle on. Politicians from all sides have declared that the economy needs skills, and in the post - Denham era national policy should indicate that every community needs local access to high quality FE. It is the form this takes, rather than the fact that it needs to exist, that will tax the brains of the sector.

All change - and more of the same

Our survival instinct during this life of continuous change was brought to my attention only last week. A new person started in my department, new to the FE sector. I thought a glossary of terms might be helpful and pulled out the last one I had created. So what was in the list?

I deleted the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) but seemed to add in a lot more : the Skills Funding Agency, Young People's Learning Agency, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS), Qualifications and Curriculum Framework (QCF), Training Quality Standard (TQS) and Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) to name but a few. I reinstated the Local Education Authority (LEA) as they take back the reins of the sector's funding arrangements, and added in ER - no, not the TV hospital programme, but the Government's 'Employer Responsive' programme. And it did not end there.

Every sector has its jargon and related bodies and quangos. What is inherently good about the FE sector is that we have consistently been nimble footed, learning quickly how to adapt to the latest government agenda, work with the latest government body and understand the latest funding initiative.

From new programmes to help NEETs (yes, 'Not in Employment, Education or Training' was on my list!), to focussing in on FL (Foundation Learning was added!), establishing the Diploma as part of the curriculum, and then gearing up - (now down) for the T2G activity, we warm to the task. We read the papers that come through, we go to conferences to find out what we need to do, then we work with other providers to share best practise, then create 'champions and 'ambassadors' to disseminate the information. It is not that we relish the plethora of challenges, more that we know we have to gear up to carry on doing what we do best - supporting learners of every description within our communities.

The FE sector is also not in the business of waiting for government direction and initiatives. Providers quickly learn how to deliver against future needs. From IT courses in 'Certified Ethical Hacking', to working with the UK's nuclear energy sector to set up nuclear training portfolios, and also forging strong and profitable relationships with employers to embark on knowledge transfer programmes by sharing the latest equipment in the power generation industry, we embrace the needs of the future.

The election results - what will they mean?

We know what any government will be looking for. Red, blue or just 'hung' in any of its guises, the demand will be for better management, delivery of more for less, value for money and contribution towards the economy. It will want a clear focus on what we need to keep Britain moving towards what is predicted to be a slow recovery.

Out of this embattled ground the FE sector will emerge anew. Providers have already faced funding cuts and course cost increases. They have already started to look at their own viability, mergers have already happened in the sector, and federated models are being examined. There is room for efficiency and it is thought that the projected reductions in funding over the next three years can be absorbed, with many of the most efficient colleges already positioning themselves to do this. Managed Services initiatives will enable Beacon colleges and other high quality providers to 'performance improve' struggling or vulnerable colleges. So the sector will shake itself down, re-shape and re-emerge ready to take on the challenges in support of UK PLC to deliver the skills with the focus on the areas that are important to keep the engine room of economic growth running.

This is the resilience of the sector. We continue providing advice and guidance to get learners on the right course, preparing them for the workplace, helping re-train, helping the disabled people in our society, and helping people get back into work. Providers continue to work ever more closely with employers who are recognising the value of the training delivery by the sector, with two thirds of large employers using a college to train their staff.

Underlining these strengths, the Further Education Reputation Strategy Group (FERSG) continues its work as a sector-led group to achieve the vision for the FE sector to be recognised nationally, regionally and locally as a confident and high performing sector.

We will continue to do what we do, whatever the colour of the next government. As a sector we will still be in business long after this election, and the next, helping deliver what we can, wherever we can – a vital force in the community.

Julie Peach is a member of the FERSG and director of marketing and communications at Warwickshire College
 

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