Following the launch of the main political parties" manifestos last week, the Association of Colleges has released its" own manifesto. Further Education has become a hotly debated subject in recent weeks, with parliamentary questions and petitions regarding amongst other things the gap in funding between Further Education Colleges and sixth forms within existing schools, with twice as many 16 "“ 18 year olds attending college rather than a sixth form at school. The release of the government's manifesto, with commitments made regarding the future development of apprenticeships and training schemes for those aged between 16 and 19, demonstrates that once again education is seen as crucial to the sustained success of the nation in the national economic and international arenas.

Putting their position within a practical context that "every political party, business and family knows that"¦knowledge and skills are the secret to a strong economy and individual prosperity", the Association of Colleges seeks to highlight the shortcomings of the current approach, whilst acknowledging the successes achieved. The change in the labour market, with a move towards high technology and a service based economy, has taken Britain into a new economic era. And although unemployment has remained low, the AoC feels that Britain is falling behind. Too many people have limited marketable and useful skills for the new job market, and it is all too easy for companies to out-source to cheaper locations. They point out that the investment in training and education falls short of expectations for improvement.

They suggest the next government must be brave enough to change the extant structure, proposing that GCSE's need either reform or removal and that the divide between vocational and academic subjects must be abolished. Attention needs to be paid to those 16 year olds who leave education with no qualifications at all, which they believe will not be achieved by the incoming diploma system. Addressing the area of adult learning, there is a broad support for the commitments made by the Government in tackling the issues of training and poor basic skill levels. However, the AoC feels that more funding is required for these to prove successful, with colleges willing to enact all new policies but struggling under the current level of funding. With this in mind, a sustained and steady plan for development and investment would be expected to provide a cyclical effect in terms of better distribution of funds, and might even afford colleges the much needed autonomy for independent development. If all of this can be achieved, the Association believes that long term stability and success is the natural result as the workforce and populace as a whole become better trained and prepared for the fast changing world.

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Jethro Marsh

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