It's no time for looking back

Sue Dutton, who stands down as acting chief executive in the New Year, spells out her hopes for the sector

AT THE Association of Colleges we have not looked back over the past year; we faced forward, pooled our resources, drew on our inner strength and set about the task of taking advantage of further education's ascendancy.

Throughout the past year we have campaigned vigorously for equitable funding, a larger slice of the cake, and increased student support. We have lobbied everyone who will listen and in the end our messages have had to be heard.

To do this we have had to leave the blight of the past behind us, ignore the cynics and put all our efforts into representing what is needed for the future. We have worked with Government departments, MPs, political advisers, the funding councils, local government and the training and enterprise councils and others to ensure a thorough understanding of FE's place.

Most heartening has been the response and support from the sector. There is hardly a principal in the land who does not now see the utmost priority in raising the awareness and impact of FE in their locality, region, and nationally. But how will we know when we have got it right, what should success look like?

For me there are five conditions which need to prevail in the FE sector, which are necessary to underpin this Government's concern to move policy and funding in the direction of the populations we serve:

* an energetic, optimistic and constructive view of the future; * a thorough understanding of and commitment to what will be required to improve performance;

* concern for staff and students;

* close connections with all post-16 partners;

* a commitment to work together to convince those who need to know that further education works.

Taking those conditions forward, developing them where they do not exist, must be the basis on which the future agenda of the AOC is constructed. The foundations are being laid for a sustained "comeback" for FE, not a quick fix according to the concerns of the day but a comprehensive and deep-rooted onslaught on behalf of our 4 million learners and the other 15m people who have not yet had the opportunity to succeed. David Gibson has a strong inheritance, and a great task, to take forward.

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