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Editor's Comment

Two of the most important promises made to colleges by the Labour Government remain unfulfilled. The TES Readers' Manifesto this week (page 3) suggests the mountain of paperwork is as high as ever and the 10 to 13 per cent funding gap with schools remains.

On these two failed pledges hang other causes for concern as the General Election campaign kicks off. College staff at all levels report a lack of time, constraints on their creativity and demoralising levels of pay compared with schoolteachers.

An under-staffed FE sector also remains substantially part-time and casual, while dedicated staff cry out for full-time jobs.

Given Labour's record spending on education and training, where did things go wrong for FE? Indeed, would any other party have done better? Remember the years of austerity funding and "efficiency" cuts under the Tories? In the run-up to May 5, FE Focus will analyse the policies of the major parties and ask how they would address the key concerns of colleges and training centres.

Only the Liberals have so far pledged to give colleges what they need. Phil Willis, their education spokesman, wrote in FE Focus (February 25): "The Liberal Democrat position is unequivocal. All institutions delivering the same type of provision - for example, A-level history - be they school or college, would get the same level of funding."

Can the Lib Dems win enough seats to hold sway in a hung parliament? And if they did, would they really fight over FE when there are bigger fish in the environment and human rights lakes to fry?

The Conservatives have promised a bonfire of the quangos, to cut red tape and release cash for teaching. In an exclusive interview with FE Focus in December, Chris Grayling, further and higher education spokesman, said:

"More money needs to go straight to the colleges, with an end to much of the ring-fencing." But on the question of parity with schools, the Tories so far are silent.

Meanwhile, Labour backed off its promise with the arrival of Ruth Kelly as Education Secretary. Asked by Labour MPs whether she would close the gap within four years, she replied: "I can't give you any commitment on that."

No wonder the Association of Colleges has made the closing of the gap a key election issue. And, as its ICM survey shows (page 1), the public shares the sentiment. So does FE Focus - colleges have earned the right to parity with schools.

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