The Queen yesterday announced a new further education bill to be passed in the 2006-2007 session of Parliament.
Amid the pomp and ceremony of the official state opening of Parliament, the Queen addressed the House of Lords with an overview of the legislative programme from Prime Minister Tony Blair’s final year in office.
On the question of education, she began by saying: “My governments programme of educational reform will continue to raise standards in schools to help all children achieve their full potential”.
And pointing directly to the FE system, she continued: “A bill will be introduced to reform the further education system so that it can better equip people with the skills that they and the economy need”.
Though this may be construed as a critical indictment of the UK’s current further education structure, the FE industry has responded.
Ellie Russell, National Union of Students (NUS) Vice President (Further Education), said: “It is high time that we saw an FE Bill put before Parliament, and we welcome this announcement warmly. The Bill proves that we finally have a government that takes the issue of FE seriously”.
“We are particularly pleased with the emphasis on establishing effective learner consultation by ensuring that the LSC and individual colleges routinely take into account the needs and views of the learners they serve. This is something which NUS has lobbied extremely hard for, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure it is properly legislated for, and in time, comprehensively implented across the board”.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP, noted: “Root and branch reform of further education is desperately needed – not the tinkering around the edges so typical of this Government’s recent record in education”.
Pointing to recent news on colleges with degree awarding powers, she continued: “Allowing colleges to award degrees is a small step in the right direction, but the work of universities and colleges in providing education needs to be better co-ordinated so that students can move between institutions more easily. We need changes to funding to allow free and fair co-operation between schools and colleges teaching 14 to 19 year olds”.
“The needs of adults who have long since left the education system cannot be forgotten. They will represent 70% of the workforce of 2020 and their learning and training needs must not be ignored. If the Bill does not propose the fundamental reforms needed to address our looming skills crisis then what is the point of it?”
“We need to see real meat on the bone. It would be unfortunate if the real substantive policies for improving our country’s skills crisis are delayed so that they can be developed under Gordon Brown’s leadership”, she added.
Alan Tuckett, Director of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), was pleased with the announcement: “We think this is brilliant news on two counts. Firstly, because at a stroke it shows in a practical way the Government does value colleges. And secondly it’s the first sensible, tangible step towards an articulated tertiary system of education for the UK which is exactly what adults need”.
“The next steps we”re now looking for are a coherent credit framework which underpins qualifications and an accelerated foundation learning tier with proper respect for the complexity of routes that adults take in achieving their goals”.
A spokesperson from the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) added: “If the Bill is about strengthening genuine choice and contestability in terms of training provision for employers, we are greatly encouraged and we strongly support the thrust of the Government’s reforms”.
University and College Union (UCU) joint general secretaries, Paul Mackney and Sally Hunt, noted: “UCU welcomes any streamlining of LSCs that would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and bring resources closer to front-line teaching”.
“We also welcome the commitment to “substantially raising skills among young people and adults”. We hope this will mean a review of the current reduction of opportunities in adult education courses, greater support for older students and an end to the cuts in ESOL which only a few weeks ago Bill Rammell said was the key to integration”.
They added: “We support the move towards greater employer involvement in training but the government is still refusing to bite the bullet and introduce a level of compulsion on employers to make a meaningful contribution to the cost of this”.
Frances O”Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary said: “It is very welcome that the Government is legislating to strengthen the role of FE colleges in equipping people with the skills that they and the economy need. For too long, vocational education and training has been seen as a second-best option in the UK and this has seriously damaged our social fabric and economic prospects”.
“The Further Education and Training Bill paves the way for a new approach on skills and it suggests that colleges will be at the very heart of the national skills strategy that Lord Leitch will be announcing shortly”.
Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, Sir Richard Lambert, said: “The Governments commitment to put business needs at the heart of the further education sector is welcome. However more should be done to ensure the system is demand-led and that FE colleges work in partnership with employers”.
“Also, the rules ring-fencing funding for colleges should be abolished to ensure that employers have access to the best courses, regardless of whether they are public or privately run”, he added.
And Dr John Brennan, Association of Colleges (AoC) Chief Executive said: “We are delighted that the Government has listened to calls from colleges to free up Foundation Degrees. Giving colleges the power the award their own FDs will be a revolution in Higher Education. Colleges have been freed to use their existing strong links with employers and their local communities to tailor degrees to demand”.
“This will open up higher education, capturing people who never thought they could attend university and boost the Government drive to bring up to 50% of all those under 30 into Higher Education. It is a realistic, employer-based way for many people in work to approach a degree”.
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