Easterhouse takes a swipe at Edinburgh

A GLASGOW college has accused the Edinburgh establishment of dominating public policy in FE.

John Wheatley College, which serves the Easterhouse area of Glasgow and is a leader in widening access, made its comments in a scornful dismissal of a report for the Edinburgh-based Scottish Further Education Funding Council on supply and demand in FE.

Consultants from DTZ-Pieda, who produced the report for the council, did not include the Glasgow colleges because they had already been involved in a separate study for the funding council.

John Wheatley says it has long been concerned at the "Kirriemuir effect" and the DTZ-Pieda report was yet more evidence. (The phrase was coined by Andrew McPherson, formerly of the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University, to describe a tightly knit group originating from small town Scotland who ruled the roost in education.) The college says the consultants' approach "appears to disenfranchise a significant part of the sector, and one which might have something to teach the rest of Scotland if participation rates are taken as a critical performance indicator."

John Wheatley's board complains that the consultants did not "grasp the central reality" which is that the sector is not a homogeneous group. Some colleges have a national role, some are distinctively local, some are heavily involved in HE and some have a strong vocational bias.

The college also accuses the consultants of failing to understand Glasgow. The city has the highest FE participation rate in Scotland but the worst HE, the lowest attainment rates for school-leavers, the highest levels of poverty, and a skills gap alongside the worst unemployment levels in Scotland. "Glasgow's need for further education is, in fact, matched by its participation rate," John Wheatley states.

The college urges the funding council to be wary of drawing "broad brush" conclusions from data such as population movements. It is particularly concerned at inferences which might be drawn from the predicted decline in the city's population and growth around Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Such changes may well be due to people switching jobs, with the most mobile likely to be the most highly skilled and qualified. This could therefore point to the need for more HE in the Edinburgh area and a continuing demand for more FE in Glasgow, as the west loses key workers.

Concern is also expressed at the poor quality of labour market intelligence. Colleges should concentrate on core skills and leave job-specific training to employers.

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