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Colleges charge full steam ahead

It was not just on time but arrived a full eight months ahead of schedule.

And a government minister used a platform at London's Waterloo station to praise the further education colleges that delivered the target so far in advance.

Alan Johnson, minister for lifelong learning, further and higher education, posed beside the Eurostar to highlight the high-speed roll-out of the Government's CoVE programme.

In 2001 a manifesto target was set that by March 2004, 150 colleges in England would be Centres of Vocational Excellence in providing specialised workforce training.

Now the timetable has had to be re-written as the total number of colleges with interim or full CoVE status has already exceeded the 200 mark, and a new target of 400 CoVEs by April 2006 has been set.

Newham College in east London, is the first college in the country to achieve full CoVE status for the rail industry. The minister presented Newham college principal Martin Tolhurst with a plaque to mark the success of the programme.

Mr Johnson said: "To maintain and increase our economic success we have to address the skills shortage now. Skills matter. They help businesses compete and help individuals raise their employability and provide a route to a better life.

"CoVEs ensure that local training provisions are tailored to meet the skills needs of local and regional employers."

A report commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council to measure the progress of CoVEs has detailed increasing learner numbers, high levels of employer satisfaction, and widespread optimism about widening participation.

The report concludes: "Overall, the aims of raising the standards of vocational learning and increasing the relevance of provision to employers and industry have been embraced by providers."

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