Colleges lose in tale of two promises

Tes Editorial

One of the most striking points about the funding gap between colleges and schools (page 1) is that a year after Ruth Kelly promised in 2005 to close what was then said to be a 13 per cent gap, experts uncovered further factors that added 4 per cent to the differential between the sectors.

And, if a 13 per cent differential was not a big enough slap in the face for FE, then it is worth noting that the extra 4 per cent was due to the teachers' pay grant that boosts school teachers' pay but is not available to colleges, something that appears to have been omitted from Ms Kelly's calculations.

To the Government's and Ms Kelly's credit, they sought to address the differential in funding between our colleges and schools. Progress has been made but the gap in 2008 stands at 9 per cent.

During the period, 2005 to 2008, colleges were some of the fastest- improving institutions in education, always responsive to the Government's training and skills agenda. As ever, FE got on with the job.

But this is a tale of two promises. Ms Kelly's, laudable though it was, on college funding and Gordon Brown's on state school funding to bring it in line with the independent sector. How telling it is that Mr Brown's promise was fulfilled.

Might it have been better to have increased schools' funding by a bit and closed the gap with colleges?

Schools may still enjoy greater political muscle, but FE is harnessed increasingly to national economic priorities. John Denham's speech to the Association of Colleges (AoC) conference last week was a plea for FE to help fight the recession and provide for its enevitable casualties, the unemployed.

Learning and skills providers will, of course, rise to this latest challenge. And the Government is committed to closing the funding gap, as Jim Knight told the AoC.

It is just that, from the latest evidence, commitments to fund FE fairly seem to have a substantially longer shelf-life than those made elsewhere.

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