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FE news at a glance

Parties square up over apprenticeship pledges

Every school-leaver who achieved the right grades would be guaranteed an apprenticeship place under a future Labour government, according to Ed Miliband. The Labour leader pledged to create at least 80,000 high-quality training opportunities a year for young people during the next Parliament by making it standard practice for employers in the public and private sectors to offer apprenticeships. The Conservatives have pledged to redirect pound;300 million from the welfare budget to help fund 1 million high-quality apprenticeships by the end of the next Parliament, while the Liberal Democrats have promised to increase the number of apprenticeships and improve their quality, give more incentives to employers to take on apprentices and expand the number of degree-equivalent higher apprenticeships. The government recently celebrated the creation of 2 million new apprenticeships since 2010. But Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that although apprenticeships were important they were not the only option. Employers and colleges should have the flexibility to work together on developing relevant and up-to-date learning programmes and qualifications, he added. The University and College Union said it was time to consider a "radical overhaul" and explore longer course options so that apprentices could receive a more rounded education and fair pay.

Digital revolution off to an `encouraging' start

Further education providers have made a "very encouraging" start to improving digital technology in the sector, according to a new report. The Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) was set up in 2013 to make recommendations about how best to use technology. A new evaluation (bit.lyFeltagProgress) says that Feltag's work and the government's response have "significantly" raised awareness of the potential of technology, and many colleges and providers are realigning their teaching and learning strategies as a result. However, despite "encouraging" levels of engagement, the report says there is more to do.

Niace to have final say on FE reform

Adult education body Niace has been commissioned to carry out the final evaluation of the government's FE reform programme, which will inform future developments in the sector. All FE providers in England will be contacted and invited to take part in a survey to gauge the overall impact of the programme and the changes they have implemented. The evaluation will also look into the impact of funding changes and apprenticeship reform. Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for development and research at Niace, said it was "vitally important" for the FE sector to be involved. "We need to know what's worked and what hasn't, and how learners have been affected as well as providers," she added.

NHS cash injection aims to boost skills

The NHS in England has been given a pound;4.36 million funding boost to improve the skills of its 600,000 support workers. The government is providing pound;1.96 million through its Employer Ownership of Skills pilot fund, with the remaining cash coming from a partnership of public, private and third sector employers working with the NHS. The money will be used to set up a new national infrastructure for skills provision, including six "excellence centres" across England, which will bring together employers in different sectors to implement programmes in their workplaces. It will also support the recruitment of 10,000 extra apprentices and trainees, all with a high level of skills, to create a more "versatile and robust" health service.

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