No one would pretend that New Deal is perfect. And, equally, no one would pretend that New Deal comes without major issues and challenges for the FE sector. But I think what disappointed me most was that the complex, evolutionary nature of New Deal was not considered. As anyone who has actually been involved with New Deal will tell you, the dominant features of the initiative have been a "willingness to listen" (which extends all the way to ministers), and a willingness to operate flexibly and respond to lobbying from the sector.
In the original design documents for New Deal, when partnership was first spoken of, FE was significantly absent from the listings of potential players. Since that time, however, we have had the chance to put questions to ministers, meet the select committees, and consult nationally with representatives from employment services, the Department for Education and Employment and others. Our concerns and views on progress have been sought throughout, in a manner which is unprecedented.
As a result of this, we have made considerable progress in our relationships with employment services and their understanding of colleges. And we seem to have "pushed the boundaries" in relation to issues such as the status of existing students (when it comes to their "call-up" for New Deal) and the opportunity to study above national vocational qualification level 2 on New Deal.
There is still a long way to go to resolve all the concerns. However, at the risk of being seen as naive, we are convinced in the Black Country that initiatives such as New Deal, which furnish the opportunity to work in large strategic partnerships, are the best way for the sector to move forward and drive the widening participation agenda for the benefit of all in the community.
MIKE McCABE, Chair, Black Country Colleges Consortium, Dudley College West Midlands