FE staff bolster opposition ranks

New candidates with a background in further and adult education are well represented in the opposition parties' ranks. This contrasts with the Tories who have virtually no new candidates from FE.

The Tories, however, do have high-profile politicians with an FE background such as Tim Bowell, agriculture minister and former further and higher education minister, and James Paice, the current incumbent.

Research by The TES shows 108 new Labour candidates have educational backgrounds - 12 of these from FE. The Liberal Democrats have 119 with 23 from FE.

All say they are intent on carving out a unique roll for the colleges in broad education and training partnerships to drive the much needed post-16 revolution.

The likely arrival of new FE blood in the House of Commons reflects a deepening concern that colleges have continued to play second fiddle to schools and universities.

Andrew Siantonas, a maths lecturer standing for Labour in Devon East, argued: "Labour's traditional commitment to the public sector means they will draw a lot of their support from there."

Elspeth Buchanan says her background, lecturing in history, led her to stand for the Lib Dems. "A mind trained in argument naturally leads one to the balance of the centre," she said.

David Chaytor, a former head of Continuing Education in Manchester and now Labour candidate for Bury North, says the Tories' lack of former lecturers is because "they don't believe in further education".

This charge is rejected by Mr Paice: "It's up to local associations who the candidate is. The FE sector has a record of which we should be proud."

The candidates are committed to pushing the cause of FE and "lifelong learning" if elected.

Mr Siantonas said: "In many ways FE is the forgotten sector, squeezed between secondary and higher education. We will make the case for FE.

"We can't raise pay overnight but we can show the sector it is needed and respected. FE is crucial to Labour's programme of youth training."

In Labour's candidate directory Mr Chaytor gave specific mention to how "he is proud to have worked for 20 years with adults who failed the 11-plus, helping them achieve university places".

He said: "FE is now a disaster area. According to figures from the Further Education Funding Council, about 50 per cent of colleges are technically bankrupt or close to it."

He says his priority is a complete overhaul of the current system. This involves reviewing the situation of the most vulnerable colleges, setting up a mechanism for strategic planning and reviewing funding methodology.

He also wants to look at student finance. "FE needs a level playing field with with the other post-16 options."

Barbara Ronson, a former adult education teacher now contesting Bolton West for the Lib Dems, also highlights more help for those wanting to start adult education.

She wants the benefit rules changed to allow people to attend courses for longer than 16 hours a week before they lose money. Also the jobseekers' allowance requires people to be available for work at any time.

"This is a problem if you want to start studying," she said. "The rules cut down the options for people and reduce the number attending college."

Thought has been given to curriculum changes. Mr Siantonas wants the A-level system to be broadened. "The focus is wrong," he said. "Too many 16-year-olds have to choose three options that don't turn out to be very good for them. "

Barbara McCoy, Lib Dem candidate for North West Cambridgeshire and adult education teacher, wants more resources given to teaching English as a foreign language.

"About 10 per cent of the population don't speak English as a first language, " she said.

Consensus between the parties breaks down on additional FE funding.

Ms Ronson said: "All Labour's money from the assisted places will go on schools."

Mr Chaytor said: "The saddest feature of the Lib Dem approach is they think spending Pounds 1.7 billion is going to solve everything from pre-school upwards.

"It's scratching at the surface and it's mass deception. We need a long-term plan to shift national spending onto education."

TES april 11 1997 Stephen Byers:'Further education should link up with local partners to give young people education and training leading to a job' insight

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