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FE's future looks bright and sunny

Shortly after we published our recent white paper, "Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances," Tony Blair hosted a reception for more than 100 students, staff and leaders of the FE sector which I attended.

It was a bright, sunny April evening and there was a genuine warmth in the air in Downing Street, as people exchanged stories about their experiences of further education.

Reaction to the white paper has been really positive. Over the past two months I have been talking to people across the FE sector about the reforms.

This week sees the first meeting of my Ministerial Standing Group on Further Education. The group brings together for the first time the heads of the major agencies concerned with FE - employers, learners and providers.

With the Learning and Skills Council, through its agenda for change, and other key organisations, we will be introducing a number of forums, so stakeholders can influence the shaping of policy and practice.

There is a lot of work to do over the next 18 months. This includes building greater specialisation, setting up the new learner entitlements, and ensuring the FE system is more responsive to the needs of employers.

It also includes developing a well-qualified workforce. We will be working to develop options for greater self-regulation alongside extra freedoms for high performers. The Quality Improvement Agency will also shortly be consulting on the Quality Improvement Strategy which will provide much-needed coherence to quality development. The roll out of Train to Gain has already begun in the 20 former employer training pilot areas. It is clearly too early to judge the success of the programme, but our expectations are high.

At the same time, we don't underestimate the scale of the challenge of some of the reforms, particularly working together to change the culture on fees and create a demand-led funding system. And the confirmation of budgets for next year further reinforces our commitment to focus resources where it matters.

The FE sector is crucial to Britain's social and economic future. I am confident that working with the sector, we can seize that opportunity.

Bill Rammell is minister for further and higher education

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