From education to employment

Ruth Kelly Reminds College Principals of Economic Imperative Driving Policy

Secretary of State for Education and Skills Ruth Kelly has told delegates at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference that the FE sector must make positive changes for the good of the national economy.

Repeating a message already driven home by Lord Leitch and Sir Andrew Foster on Tuesday, Kelly warned FE professionals that failure to reverse a poor showing in a recent OECD survey of education and skills would leave Britain unable to compete in the future. “Our chances of winning this race depend on you,” she said, “the economic imperative of education, training and skills is real and clear.”


Foster’s recommendation that FE colleges concentrate on skills training for businesses has caused some concern in the sector, with many arguing that a further concentration of resources on skills and training will lead to the demise of education that promotes culture and social inclusion. Kelly tried to assure conference delegates that this need not be the case.

“I know you and your colleagues, like me, are strongly driven by ideals of social justice,” she said. “We don”t have to choose between the social and the economic ““ they go together.” Nevertheless, she argued, economic realities and the burgeoning skills and productivity gap that Britain is now experiencing meant a greater focus on skills was the only way forward for the sector.


She also stressed that Foster’s warnings could not go unheeded: in particular his conclusion that colleges are not fulfilling their potential to meet the country’s needs. “Long term failure has left us with low skill levels that can devastate lives,” she said. “Poor performing colleges and coasting colleges let down their learners and they let down other colleges.”

In a clear reference to some of the sensationalist broadsheet reports that failing colleges faced closure, she said the government reserved the right to take strong action. But she also admitted that the government had to change in the wake of Foster’s review, accepting his conclusion that too much interference was harmful and that a “lighter touch” was needed when dealing with thriving colleges. She said she wanted to give successful colleges the freedom and responsibility to deliver, and make their job easier by cutting back on “the bureaucratic burden on the FE sector.”

Though Kelly’s speech went down well, rapturous applause given to hostile questions from Principals John Smith of Burnley College, and Daniel Khan of Grimsby College, suggest she won”t win the sector over completely anytime soon.

Joe Paget

Be informed and see what Foster really said by clicking here!

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