Business culture creeps into FE

The bizarre situation at Gwent College (TES, August 8), with its inordinate number of managerial staff, is, of course, only an extreme example of a much wider problem in further education, where an estimated Pounds 300 million has been spent on employing managers since incorporation.

What we know is that the post-incorporation FE "market" wastes resources as colleges spend money competing with one another and duplicating administrative and development functions. But equally problematic is the creeping business culture which is more and more shaping FE. This is not only reflected in the changing FE staffing profile, where teachers are fast becoming a rare and exotic species, but also in the very language we use to talk about our students (apologies, our "customers").

This is something that Helena Kennedy has highlighted in Learning Works, in which she warns of the "growing disquiet that the new ethos has encouraged colleges not just to be businesslike but to perform as if they were businesses". We should be wary - British business hardly provides us with a positive role model.

Yet the economic short-termism that has bedevilled British business, with its emphasis on immediate returns, is certainly a feature of the new FE, where, as Ken Spours has demonstrated, the dash for growth has compromised the quality of provision. What is being lost in the "profit-and-loss culture" are not only scarce resources but also the educational values that many of us went into education to help foster.

ROB PEUTRELL 79 Beech Avenue New Basford Nottingham

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