From education to employment

Downing Street to see FE Representatives Deliver Petition for Protection

Today, college students and staff who have benefited from Further Education are travelling to Downing Street to present the Prime Minister with a petition demanding its protection.

The action comes in the wake of a recent Government decision to axe up to 700,000 further education places for adults by 2007-8. In practise, this could mean that colleges up and down the country will see the loss of 200,000 places this year, with a further half million under threat over the next two years.

Campaigners are also demanding the end of the funding gap between schools and colleges. The Association of Colleges has claimed that this shortfall leaves Britain’s 700,000 16-19-year-old college students under-funded by an average of £400 a year. The petition, which has received 60,000 signatures, was launched by the Association of Colleges (AoC) in March. It is also backed by a number of organisations, including Help the Aged, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the RNID and unions such as NATFHE and UNISON.

Wide Ranging Consequences

Students and staff from different areas of the country have come together to present the petition. Jennie Gribble, who is studying for a diploma in Care at Weston College in Somerset, has helped to collect 1,500 signatories. Under the funding plans that the campaigners are proposing, colleges like hers would receive an extra £600,000, which Jennie says would help “the wide range of ages, disabilities and learning capabilities which requires more staff to support, as well as resources to aid them in their learning.”

Emphasising the diversity of those who benefit from Britain’s FE sector, Jennie will be joined at Downing Street by 70-year-old Brenda Lees. Brenda, who is studying art at Grantham College, says that her experience at college has helped her fulfil her dream to “take up art on retirement.” Her course, which is threatened by the funding cuts, has also had wider social benefits. “It allows us to take knowledge back into the community,” she says, “we have grandchildren and we teach them to paint properly”¦and they go and show their friends. A lot of people who take these classes exhibit and sell paintings.” Brenda also believes that her course has given her a new lease of life, saying, “We don”t want social services to come along and say: “Would you like to be in an old folks” home?”.

FE colleges are also an important way of helping people re-enter education. Ashish Jagani, 27, will be taking time out of studying for a degree at Brunel University to travel to London today. Having left school after his GCSEs, Ashish worked in shops, but decided to return to college in order “realise his full potential.” After completing an Access to Social Work qualification at Barnet College, he was able to progress to higher education.

The Changing Face of Education

However, the opportunity to return to college, which Ashash describes as “an altogether excellent experience”, may not be so widely available in the future. On 21st October, the Government announced that it plans to increase college fees for adults by at least 60% for courses outside of its priority targets. Many colleges, such as Greenwich Community College (which has received a £420,000 cut in adult learning funding), are faced with having to introduce fees for Access courses for the first time.

Today’s campaigners will also be joined by a number of union representatives. Ellie Russell, who is just 18, is the Further Education Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS). Ellie, who has just finished her A-Levels at Haywards Heath College, is responsible for coordinating NUS strategy on further education for the near future.

Union Support

Barry Lovejoy, Head of Colleges for the University and College Lecturers” Union (NAFTHE) also leant his support to the campaign, saying, “thousands of NATFHE members working in further education signed this petition because every day they see the damaging effects of the unjust 13% funding gap between colleges and schools.” He urged the government to “take steps to prevent colleges being irrevocably damaged.”

His words were echoed by other unions and representative bodies, including the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the Secondary Heads Association. Christina McAnea, UNISON Head of Education Services, has suggested that, “The crisis facing the further education sector flies in the face of the Government’s own learning and skills agenda.” Alastair Thompson from the National Institute for Adults Continuing Education (NIACE) also had strong words for Ministers, saying, “adult learning faces an uncertain future with serious consequences for the future good of the country.”

The petition drew support not only from organisations representing employees in the FE sector, but also those representing groups who benefit from its services. The Chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Barbara Gill, said the organisation was “deeply concerned” about the cuts. “Education is of vital importance to WI members and many of them will be personally affected by these cuts.” Peter Pendle, General Secretary of the Association of College Management, also pointed out that “black and minority ethnic 16 to 19 year olds are more likely to go to further education colleges than school sixth forms.” Therefore, the new cuts would mean that “they receive significantly less spent on their education than their white equivalents.”

The diversity of the campaigners presenting the petition to Downing Street today is an illustration of the wide variety of people involved in the FE sector, both as staff and students. The government must recognise its importance. As Alastair Thompson says, “adult learning can build stronger communities, social cohesion and inclusion and cultural capacity.”

Jessica Brammar

Shout out so that Number 10 can hear us all in the FE Blog

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