From education to employment

Education Minister Ruth Kelly Announces Closing Gap from Today’s 13%

At the Association of Colleges (AoC) Conference in Birmingham today, the Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly MP, announced that the Government will be cutting into the 13% funding gap between FE colleges and school ““ based sixth forms.

This announcement was welcomed by the AoC delegates, who have long complained that the FE sector does not enjoy parity in funding with their school counterparts. They were further enervated by the headlines in some of the broadsheets which drew attention to a small section of the Foster Review regarding failing colleges. This measure is sure to be welcomed as a step in the right direction; but Ruth Kelly also indicated that there had been a great deal of investment in FE to date, and that funding from private sources would need to be gathered as well.

An Engine on the Blocks

She welcomed the publication of the Foster Review of Further Education Colleges this week, stating that she finds much to praise in the “excellent” report. She acknowledged that the report challenged everyone across the sector to improve their provision and development, and pointed out that the Government has indeed ploughed a great deal of funding into the FE sector amounting to an increase “in real terms” of almost 50% since 1997.

She recognises that more and more young people are staying in education as they see this as the best means of attaining the standard and type of life that they seek, and fully believes that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the Government in the person of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the colleges are ready to face the challenges. As she put it, this “places you [FE colleges] centre stage of the engines of progress.”

Rising Investment

Describing the funding position as “challenging”, she began to paint a positive picture of the future. She claimed that between 2004 / 2005 and 2007 / 2008 there would be an extra £1.5 billion ploughed into the sector from public funds, with further investments of capital as well to be confirmed. The LSC, she stated, was to be responsible for the allocation of a budget of £10.4 billion in the coming year, and in this light there were “tough choices” ahead.

She set out the three priorities that underpin these tough decisions. The first is that the FE sector need to be “clear on the Government priorities” for the funding that was available. She said that this year these guidelines had been made available far earlier than in the previous cycle, thus enabling more efficient forward planning on the part of principals and administrators.

The “new balance” in funding was the second point raised, which was returned to on a number of occasions as the Minister pointed out that public funds could never hope to meet the demands of the development of the FE sector. She will be engaged in programmes designed to encourage both private individuals and employers to realise the benefits to them in FE training and education, and will be levering money from their investments into filling the gaps.

The Gap

The third point was one that lay very close to the hearts of the delegates before her; namely, that of the disparity in funding between schools and FE colleges. Whilst admitting that she cannot solve this problem “overnight” she stated that the current discrepancy ““ approximately 13% – is one of the principle elements of the FE sector that would be addressed. Through funding increases and what she has described today as “technical changes”, the gap should shrink to 8% by 2006 / 2007. This will continue, and she stated that the Government will be committed to closing the funding gap.

Challenges, according to Kelly and Foster, must be met. Poor rates of participation are being targeted ““ the intention is for 90% of 16 year olds to remain in education within 10 years. Some 5 million adults do not have the level of numeracy and literacy expected of eleven years olds; hence the emphasis being placed on basic skills training. Kelly maintains that by 2012 two thirds of all jobs will require training up to Level 3.

So the funding gap will narrow”¦supposedly. It is also worth noting that this seems to indicate that, whilst the Government are interested in funding training up to Level 2, they intend to call on employers and individuals to meet ever greater parts of the costs for training beyond this.

Jethro Marsh

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