Speaking at the Association of Colleges (AoC) Conference in Birmingham, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly praised the rates of success in the FE sector and set out her vision for the next steps ahead.
Praising the Foster Review on Further Education as “excellent” and seeing the challenges that lay ahead as facing all stakeholders ““ Government, educators, and sector leaders alike. The delegates, sitting inside whilst a University and College Lecturers” Union (NATFHE) strike ran its course under the cold November sunlight, were then introduced to what she sees as the next stage on the road to FE development and skills development for the future of Britain.
Success Rates and Targets Reached
Speaking of the successes enjoyed, she described the rising success rates which according to Ruth Kelly are a rise of 59% success in the years 2001 / 2002 to some 72% in 2003 / 2004. This rise is in no small part down to continuing development on the part of the Government in what she sees as a continuing commitment to FE, with an increase of almost 50% in funding since New Labour came into office and the budget that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) are responsible for next year amounting to some £10.4 billion.
She also cited the successes achieved in apprenticeships. The Government had set a target of having some 28% of young people enter the apprenticeship programme in some manner, and thanks to what could be called unified efforts on the part of the LSC, Government and Employers, a total of 176,000 apprentices are currently being recruited. She admitted that the Foster Review highlighted the tough choices that lay ahead for FE, and set out five key strands that she will use in consultations on implementing Foster’s recommendations.
The first of these strands is the need for a clear mission for FE, setting out a clear and unified purpose for the sector and Government to work towards in harmony. She sees, in tandem with Foster, the FE sector’s prime role in the coming years as one of developing the skills of the workforce and young to meet skills demands for the future economic success of Britain. This core mission concept enters into her second strand, which cites the Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) programme as “reinforcing” the core principles.
Whilst she acknowledges that the FE sector has traditionally been responsive to the needs and demands of learners, making it inclusive to a great degree, she calls in her third strand for an even more flexible approach. The reason for this is the apparent dissatisfaction of some employers with the amount of feedback and contribution to the skills programmes” development that is welcomed from them. In keeping with Foster, then, the key would appear to be liaising with the employers to develop the skills that they require.
The fourth strand attacked a question very close to the hearts of the assembled college principals; namely, that a failing college might be taken over by training providers following their failure. She stated that bad provision would no longer be tolerable, stating that underperforming colleges (numbering just 4% of the sector according to Ofsted Chief Inspector David Bell) let the majority down. In the final strand, she made it clear that successful regimes would be afforded a measure of independence with a “lighter touch” inspection.
Finishing by recognising that the Government and the LSC must work together to reduce the level of bureaucratic oversight in FE, these represent her thoughts on the implementation of Foster. Much remains to be done in clarifying the Government’s position in these areas, and it can only be hoped that the forthcoming issuance of papers from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) will crystallise the future course of FE.
Hot air? Or will the strands rise on the breeze? Tell us in the FE Blog
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