From education to employment

Dr John Brennan Critical of Government and British Business in Address

Dr. John Brennan issued a challenge to the government and UK businesses during his keynote address to the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference earlier today.

Responding to the long awaited Foster Review into the Future Role of Further Education Colleges – published yesterday – the AoC Chief Executive called on businesses in particular to shoulder their share of responsibility for the UK’s skills shortages.

“Colleges are exposed to a burden of expectation simply not faced by other institutions in the Learning and Skills sector,” he complained, adding: “we do not expect to be so freely and unfairly criticised.”


Refering to claims from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that FE colleges are unable to do the job of training properly, Dr. Brennan advised Sir Digby Jones and John Sutherland to “look to their own back yard.” Anyone listening to the CBI might assume that ten years of modernisation and rationalisation in the FE sector was “a fantasy”, he said.

He claimed that far too many UK businesses shirk responsibility for training and qualifying staff, and that most are unwilling to invest the time and money needed to do the job properly. “The fact is, Roy of the Rovers does more real life training than the average firm,” he joked, to laughter from the auditorium.

He said that the proportion of workers receiving training from their employers has barely changed since 1995, and that less than 50% of companies surveyed in a recent Employer Skills Survey provided any off-the-job training at all. He also argued that, just as no college should be allowed to underperform, no company should be able to get away with ignoring or underfunding the training needs of its staff.


Turning his attention to the government, Dr. Brennan said there was still too much friction in the sector’s relationship with Whitehall. “I wish the friction would disappear,” he said, “but there is still too much deliberate insinuation that colleges are time-warped in the 1990s and not coping with modern challenges.”

He said that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) had been unfair to blame employers” reluctance to invest in training on the ability of colleges to deliver the kind of training they want, complaining that this was “just so much rhubarb.” Inevitably, he also touched on the subject of the funding gap between colleges and schools, calling it “both unfair to learners and prejudicial to the long-term value of colleges.”

With headlines focused once again on talk of “failing” colleges, Dr. Brennan insisted that the FE sector had its own positive vision for the future. This was “not Bleak House, but Great Expectations,” he said.

Joe Paget

Find out what the Dickens was really in the Foster Review by clicking here

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