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Claimants' charter under construction

Now that the Socialist Educational Association has Government's ear, it is eager to widen its base, reports Nicolas Barnard.

Further education can play a crucial role in cutting unemployment if claimants are given the freedom to return to training and education, the Socialist Educational Association is to tell Labour ministers.

The SEA will also urge Labour to make colleges and universities comprehensive, arguing that FE and higher education are the only phases of education that remain almost entirely selective.

With the Kennedy Committee due to report next week on ways of widening participation in further education, FE reform generated some of the most forward-thinking recommendations passed at last week's SEA annual conference.

National executive committee member Caroline Benn said: "The 19th century saw the fight for comprehensive primary education, the 20th century the fight for comprehensive secondary education.

"The 21st century will see it extended to the rest of the system. Education is a human right, not a privilege."

But there were warnings that any comprehensive education post-16 would have to be backed by a full range of access courses if students were not to embark on training they did not have the skills to complete.

The SEA wants better funding and co-ordination of FE provision - though not a return to local authority control - arguing that competition between colleges has not benefited students while training and enterprise councils which commission many courses are not sufficiently accountable.

It is also calling for an end to the "artificial" split between vocational and academic education, with a single 14-19 curriculum made up of modular courses with a large common core.

The association also has plans to urge a relaxation of rulescovering claimants on income support or the job-seekers' allowance, including an increase in the amount of studying they can do before losing benefit to at least 21 hours a week.

Instead of being forced to attend job clubs and similar schemes, claimants on training courses should be allowed to go to careers offices; they should be allowed to work part-time without being signed off benefit; and they should not be offered jobs unless they fitted their career plan, the SEA agreed.

Manchester delegate Bernard Stone said: "We should welcome the Government's Welfare to Work proposals. The post-16 sector has a vital role to play in that process."

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