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Leaders prefer Lib Dem policies

The Liberal Democrats have come top in a poll of college principals that asked which of the three main political parties have the best policies for further education.

Almost 40 per cent of principals voted for the Lib Dems in the survey conducted by FE Focus, compared with 30 per cent for Labour and just 7 per cent for the Tories.

In answer to the supplementary question, "what is the most important thing a newly-elected government should do other than increase funding?" more than 10 per cent of principals said the Tomlinson Report should be implemented in full.

The Lib Dems are the only party that supports the full implementation of Tomlinson's proposals, which include a diploma to replace A-levels.

One principal said the most important issue was to "implement Tomlinson as proposed, rather than the watered down version currently on the table".

Some 85 per cent believe there should be a minister of state exclusively for FE in the new government, though one who rejected the idea added the rider: "We want less meddling, not more."

When asked about the single most important effect of the funding shortfall for FE colleges compared with schools, more than 70 per cent mentioned staff pay.

One principal said: "Having to pay staff around pound;3,000 a year less than they would earn for the same or probably less work at a school sixth-form.

"This affects staff recruitment, and sometimes poor fields of applicants put quality at risk."

Nearly 40 per cent said FE colleges have been very effective in meeting the skills requirements for the 21st century, and a further 55 per cent said they have been quite effective; 51 per cent said colleges should have more of the status and character of US-style community colleges, with 27 per cent more replying "maybe".

Exactly one half said the FE sector had managed to move away from the competitive market, but fewer than 20 per cent felt that there was real co-operation between colleges.

The 10-question survey was sent to 421 principals in England and Wales, of whom 113 replied.

Editor's comment 4

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