From education to employment

Morale Boost for FE Sector in Times of Change

Today at the Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference in Birmingham, Dr. John Brennan, the Chief Executive of the AoC, welcomed the Minster of State for Education Ruth Kelly MP in her first address to the conference.

Her attendance was a continuance of a long line of ministerial attendance at the AoC Conferences, and he was at pains to pay special attention to the fact that this was her first visit. And whilst he did mention the frictions that exist with the Government over various issues regarding funding and the employment of FE colleges in the upcoming “skills battle”, he made it plain the AoC sees itself as a tool for improvement and not obstruction.

A Phone Call Away

The conference has taken place amidst the ongoing battle for fair pay and funding for FE colleges as compared with schools ““ a battle which has taken to the streets today in the much ““ publicised strike by members of the UK’s leading University and College Lecturers” Union, NATFHE over pay ““ and has unsurprisingly coincided with the publication of the Foster Review on Further Education.

Standing before the assembled delegates and following the much ““ loved broadcaster Michael Brunson onto the stage, it was perhaps with these issues in mind that Dr. Brennan spoke of frictions between the Government and the FE sector. Certainly, funding issues are central, with a real ““ terms cut in funding for the sector in post ““ 19 education coming into force this year. This has caused a great deal of uproar from a number of quarters, not least of which is the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

However, Dr. Brennan was keen to stress that often two heads do prove better than one, and in the mission to improve and develop the FE sector the AoC stood ready to assist. As he put it, “The AoC is always at the other end of the phone”. He stated clearly that the AoC is willing to offer the expertise of their organisation and membership should the Government wish to engage in consultation.

Elitism in Education

Dr. Brennan then turned to an area of education that many would doubtless forget, reaching rather for the quick headline and the fast buck. He promises that, in keeping with their willingness to be available to the Government for comment, the AoC will not simply rush to the popular press with every complaint. He took the opportunity that his welcome of Ruth Kelly offered, however, to raise the issue of elitism in education, and to ask her to address this.

The FE sector has long laboured under the mistaken public perception that all they offer is a second chance, and that consequently standards and quality are not as high as they could be. Dr. Brennan believes that there still exist many who aim to guide education funding and policy in a direction that benefits the higher echelons of what Margaret Thatcher once ludicrously claimed to be a “classless society”, thus diverting funds and policy development away from those who need it most.

Stating that he believed that “she must have run into it sometime” during her time in office, he called on her to ignore such unfair and unjust proposals even if they were “masquerading behind the face of higher standards”. He pointed out that the members of the AoC do not see their task as just that, a task, but as a reason for being in education itself. This enthusiasm, it is hoped, will not go unrecognised in the next round of funding decisions.

He closed with a paraphrased comment drawn from Hamlet: “Let thine eye look like a friend on FE.”

Amen to that.

Jethro Marsh

Ignore the flashy headlines; surely you want to know what Foster really said? Then click here.

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