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We operate in a world of fractured order. Further Education is a kaleidoscope without symmetry: School sixth forms belong in it for funding but not for the new quality measures; LSC plan it except in regard to academies and new school sixth forms, and now they must shortly defer to Children and Young People’s Trusts. Contestability is the watchword for our post-19 provision but Collaboration within the new Partnership Boards is the requirement 14-19. And now the IB expansion and A* grades at A-level are announced, leaving us reeling and wondering, not for the first time, how it’s all going to work.

We cynically reflect that rather than base policy on the Tomlinson Report they themselves commissioned, Government works by a swift glance at the private sector and a knee-jerk.

When in point of fact, Government thinking, in the incarnation of the four principles of public service reform, is based on a very serious consideration of the private sector and a very careful estimation of how the beneficial effects of competition can best be replicated in the public services. A* grades at A level have the potential to drive up the quality even of our very best sixth form colleges. Promoting the IB will increase choice and enhance the “personalisation” of further education. They are both bang in line with Government philosophy ““ and that word is not too grand a term for it. They may make the lives of college SMTs more complicated, but that’s beside the point: they serve the public good.

Yet perhaps not entirely beside the point. A couple of the Prime Minister’s maxims which he says he has learnt through the process of reform are: “Learn from those at the frontline actually doing it. Question the system as well as just work it .” A more temperate and justifiable criticism of the Government and of the DfES is that their readiness to learn from those at the front line and to question the system does not extend so far as their own role within it. Neither appear to see themselves as the senior management within the FE system, charged with the responsibilities that go with that role.

And the most striking of these ““ in the present context ““ is the responsibility to make the “big picture” clear to everyone in the system: what the fundamental vision is, what the drivers and obstacles are and to avail themselves of every opportunity to reinforce these key things simply and clearly. It’s a pretty safe bet that more people in the FE Sector could quote examples such as those I opened with than could state the Prime Minister’s four key principles. Government and the Department bear some responsibility for that.

And it’s important to improve on this position because to help people like college principals understand the direction of travel and move with it rather than stick out against it would, in itself, constitute a significant, if indirect, benefit to the public we ““ college staff and Government ministers, public servants alike ““ all serve.

Chris Thomson, Principal, Brighton, Hove and Sussex 6th Form College.

Related FE News articles:

“IB Isn”t As Good As Tomlinson” ““ 04/12/06

College Leaders Welcome IB; But Caution Urged ““ 01/12/06

Breaking News ““ Minister Announces IB Introduction ““ 30/11/06

“Skills Debate Must Be Kept in Balance” ““ 28/09/06

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