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Editor's comment

Ministers in charge of spending almost pound;10 billion a year on further and adult education inevitably want evidence of success. Taxpayers who foot the bill would not have it otherwise.

But this does not justify the creation of a production line to churn out work-ready adults like so many trussed turkeys, complete with their "quality assured" level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) certificates. For too many, it goes against the ethos of getting people back into education. The treadmill of exams, or any assessment, frightens off those who most need to get back into education and on to the skills ladder.

There is growing nervousness among MPs that the whole skills agenda could backfire. Members on the Commons education select committee challenged further and higher education minister Bill Rammell over adult education cuts and fee rises they fear could have unintended consequences (page 1).

Such consequences have been highlighted over recent weeks in FE Focus. Some colleges have been able to raise fees. But, too often, courses are closing as people find the hike in fees too much, so everyone loses. Paradoxically, the courses were so popular at lower rates, they provided economies of scale to subsidise the most needy. Colleges predict the loss of one million places by 2010.

Mr Rammell insists he is mindful of such dangers and cites plans in the FE white paper for a "foundation tier", an entitlement for those with no qualifications who lose out. But is this really the answer? Even were it to be so, it won't happen for some years and, only then, "if funding is available".

Recruitment at this level is inevitably untidy. As most adult educators testify, people do not sign up with a clear intention of taking the test or not. Some go for leisure and find themselves drawn into higher things. Many do not see or want this neat ladder of progression, but once in the confines of the classroom, they can be worked on.

It is absolutely right to divert as much cash as possible to help those least qualified. This issue is eloquently argued by Mick Fletcher, former research manager at the Learning and Skills Development Agency (see right).

But he also raises a point that ministers have still to take seriously - the obsession with level 2 is highly questionable and may not be achieving what the Government believes it is.

The adult spending agenda appears to be a huge exercise in rationing, dressed up as a skills agenda. Let us hope the gamble pays off.

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