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A noble defence

FErret would like to dedicate this week's column to the Learning and Skills Council.

Recent attacks on the council have left FErret perturbed and curious as to whether there was anyone left - outside the LSC, that is - who had a good word to say about the old leviathan.

After a fruitless trawl of colleges, building contractors, architects and the like, FErret has eventually found a champion: Lord Baker of Dorking.

"Back in the late 1980s, when I was education secretary, I visited many FE colleges. Several of them I found to be immensely depressing places, down at heel, dirty, shabby and with poor equipment," the noble said in the House of Lords last week.

"I decided that drastic surgery was needed and I removed them from the control of local education authorities. Since then, the golden age of FE dawned."

Lord Baker went on to condemn the Government's decision to dismantle the LSC next year. This was a disaster in the making, he warned before leaping to its defence.

"The Learning and Skills Council is now in the doghouse because it went over its budget, so it is a very easy body to attack," he said, somewhat understating the case, as it is easier these days to attack the LSC than get a receipt for garden gnomes past the Parliamentary Fees Office.

"Why did it go over its budget?" Lord Baker asked. "It went over its budget because it was ambitious.

"What is wrong with being ambitious for further education? Ambition is all about reach and grasp. Let us remember what Robert Browning said, that `a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?' " quoth the lord.

There was barely a dry eye in the House. And then, when everyone had stopped laughing - sorry, crying - Lord Baker put the icing on the cake.

"A principal of an FE college only a few weeks ago referred to the period until now as a Camelot for further education," he said.

FErret has truly found the LSC's Sir Lancelot.

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