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Editor's comment

Labour was full of bold promises for further education and training at its annual conference this week. Chancellor Gordon Brown spoke of a "historic promise" to boost adult skills while Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said that FE and training had supplanted schools at the top of the education agenda.

We shall see whether it is more than conference fizz and pre-election hype.

Meanwhile, there is a job for colleges and training providers to do now - helping to bridge the nation's skills gap.

The evidence suggests they are succeeding. Virtually all targets set for colleges by the Government have been reached and, as this week's 16-page TES special report, Learning Reforms, shows, independent training providers have the potential to do considerably more work if given the scope by politicians.

If the 14-plus learning and skills agenda really has been put top of the political agenda, then the cash to meet those needs must follow. But, as Julian Gravatt points out in his column today (page 28), once the cash to protect school sixth forms, meet adult basic training entitlements and fund the 14-19 growth is spent, there will be little left of the Learning and Skills Council's budget. This, despite the fact that it will rise to more than pound;10 billion, by 2008.

Where will the cash come from? It is clear that rich pickings will not be had from the taxpayer over the next three years. The answer, according to Brown and Clarke, is to get the individual and employer to pay more.

Adult skills minister Ivan Lewis, in the Learning Reforms special report, insists they will buy the training packages if colleges and training providers tailor materials of quality to meet the needs of adults and the workplace.

But there has to be more. When primary and secondary schools were top priority, ministers showed a willingness to dig deep and take big risks with initiatives that were not always successful. Fresh Start and education action zones spring to mind.

This is not to say ministers should put up with poor quality. But they must be willing to find more cash to develop the post-16 sector, even if that means making short-term cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

There is plenty of evidence in the 16-page special report to show that where colleges and other providers work in collaboration, with adequate cash support from government, the result is a quality product that employers and adults will buy.

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