From education to employment

Alan Johnson headlines annual Association of Colleges conference

The government wants to “get out of the way” of the best performing colleges in the country, while focusing “relentlessly” on those who fall below par.

Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Alan Johnson, yesterday reiterated the government’s drive to push up standards in the FE sector, at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference at the ICC centre in Birmingham.

Addressing the gathered delegates, Mr Johnson said: “Government needs to get out of the way of the best, unleashing these colleges to reach greater heights; encouraging new providers to spur on the rest, ensuring a dynamic and innovative system”.

And on failing colleges, he noted: “We must push for greater improvements among “under-performers” and we must eliminate complete failure by 2008 at the latest”.

He also called on business leaders to become more involved in training: “One of our huge advantages today is that there is such wide support for the skills agenda. Business rightly said that the practice of educationalists and civil servants presuming employers” demand for skills should end. What we need is businesses feeding directly into a dynamic FE system, and an FE system which quickly and effectively caters to employer need”.

“I want business to be more involved in shaping training, funding courses and creating additional qualifications, with a much more co-operative approach across the system”.

“This means an enhanced role for the Skills for Business network; the 25 Sector Skills Councils, and the Learning and Skills Council”.

And in a clear reference to his much maligned comment made some five months earlier at the Quality Improvement Agency conference, in which he clearly stated: “Less Pilates, more plumbing. Tai Chi may be useful to those studying it, but it has not much use in the economy”, Mr Johnson yesterday moved to appreciate all aspects of further education.

He said: “I am a huge fan of all further education, whether it is tai chi or technical engineering; plumbing or pilates”.

“But the system has to be fair and equitable. And so the division between who pays for these courses needs to be split according to who is getting the most out of them. The greater the national benefit, the more the state pays. The greater the personal benefit, the more the individual pays with the necessary caveat around those on low incomes. This is the most logical and sustainable funding mechanism we can create”.

He concluded: “I am challenging you today to develop a proposal for self regulation by Spring 2007″¦the responsibility for improvement must rest primarily with FE institutions themselves ““ and one purpose of the legislation is to ensure that this happens”.

“I am confident that, working together, we can strengthen the FE system further”.

Mark Haysom, Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Council, praised the good work being done across colleges in the UK, adding that “there is no doubt that the FE system is delivering ever greater success”.

However, he noted the “impact of globalisation”: “If we are to continue to compete successfully in a global economy, we need a step-change in the way the system works”.

Outlining his vision for the future of the LSC, he said: “We will move away from the traditional role of planner and funder and become more of a market maker ““ influencing the market when and where necessary, to protect the needs of all learners and employers”.

He added: “Part of our role will also be to open up and diversify the market to bring in new providers with particular strengths in engaging wider groups of learners and employers”.

“For young people, we want to expand choice and increase the quality of 14-19 provision, to ensure more young people continue to participate and achieve. To do this we need to look at local learning markets from the perspective of learners and not institutions”.

“From what I have seen over the last three years, I am confident that working together the sector can and will respond to this vision and I look forward to continuing work with you”.

Vijay Pattni.

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