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Don't try to put raising standards on the back burner;FE Focus

Terry Melia on the challenges facing further education

In the recent White Paper Excellence in Schools, teachers and heads are recognised as being at the heart of the Government's drive to raise standards, improve performance and remedy pupil underachievement in our schools.

With the shift to a consultation document rather than a White Paper on lifelong learning there is a danger that an improvement agenda for further education might be put on the back burner.

This is not acceptable. The further education sector faces challenges similar to those faced by schools as it strives to raise standards, improve the quality of student experience and at the same time widen participation. Of course, colleges start from a higher performance base than our schools, as reports from the further education inspectorate reveal.

Additionally, through its follow-up activity after a college inspection, the inspectorate is able to ensure that rapid remedial action is taken to address the weaknesses identified and stem the downward spiral of decline that would ultimately lead to a failing college. But we should not be complacent: colleges face challenges at least as demanding as our schools.

Foremost among the challenges faced by the sector, as its 200,000 or so employees strive to meet the needs of the 4 million college students, are the need to: * improve student performance; * raise the standards of teaching, governance and management; * develop more appropriate curricula and qualifications; * improve access, increase participation and encourage lifelong learning; * use modern technology to enhance teaching and learning; * encourage the development of a critical, self-assessment culture; * simplify the sector's complex funding methodology; * rationalise and reduce the number of institutions; * and encourage more collaboration between institutions.

To respond to these various challenges the sector needs to ensure that its own workforce is trained to the highest standards.

Recognising this, the Department for Education and Employment set up the Further Education Staff Development Forum to develop national occupational standards in further education.

It was also charged with developing a framework for continuing professional development and liaising with other organisations with an interest in the sector.

With help from the Further Education Development Agency and the Association of Colleges, the forum has set in train work on the development of national standards for lecturers. These are expected to be in place by October this year.

Also, on behalf of employers in the further education sector, the forum has made a proposal to establish a Further Education National Training Organisation.

National training organisations are employer-led, strategic bodies dedicated to defining the current and future training needs of the sectors that they represent and then ensuring that these needs are met.

If the proposal is acceptable the forum will cease to exist. It will be replaced by FENTO which will have a wider representation, with employers in the lead.

However, other partner organisations such as the lecturer and support staff unions, the funding councils, the awarding bodies, AOC, FEDA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and the soon to be formed General Teaching Council, will be represented.

This is an important development for the further education sector. FENTO will not only establish high occupational standards for sector employees, but will also bring the sector's principal players together in a collaborative venture designed to raise standards and improve the quality of the student experience. It will allow the development of a close strategic alliance between the AOC and FEDA that can only be of benefit to the FE sector.

Terry Melia is chair of the FEDA

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