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Keep arm twisters out of courses

The college rebuilding programme is one of those quiet stories which gets few headlines but is transformational in scale.

The zero carbon footprint policy, reported on page 3, is yet another example of how further education will be making a name for itself while getting little credit in the national media.

Perhaps this time, though, it is just as well. Ministers' insistence that money will be given only to construction businesses whose employees do work-based training does the image of Government no favours - even if colleges are in for a deserved facelift.

The colleges, which have to foot much of the bill, will find themselves picking up the bill when the obedient firms that train apprentices turn out to be the more expensive option.

If colleges are happy to compromise (upwards) on price in order to support government policy, should they not be able to do so voluntarily?

Increasingly, compulsion is being used to force companies and individuals to support Government policy in a way which feels increasingly like control freakery.

Thou shalt remain in education and training until 18. Thou shalt train apprentices. Thou shalt pay more tax because it is good for the environment.

When recession looms, the construction industry is often the first to go down. Hardly the time to compel construction firms to spend more money on training.

The best way to promote vocational training, and encourage employers to stick with it long-term, is to leave the promotion of skills courses to the experts - the colleges that are responsible for the provision.

With more flexibility in the way they are allowed to spend their income - and less time spent chasing the latest Government initiative - the outward-looking spirit of our best colleges will always be far more effective than ministerial arm twisting.

A good place to start would be to improve the reputation of FE in the business community by allowing colleges to fund more placements for lecturers in the workplace. Evidence has shown that employers engaging in this kind of knowledge transfer with colleges are far more likely to sign up to the cause of vocational training.

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