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No more pumpkins for Cinderella

Why is it that when you attend post-16 events or read through annual reports from a number of professional institutions and associations, reference is seldom made to colleges of further education?

The language used is invariably "pupils", "teachers", or "schoolteachers". If the curriculum is mentioned, it all revolves around the national curriculum and its various key stages, and GCSE, AS and A-levels.

Some of the biggest culprits, especially in the annual reports, are scientific and engineering institutions and associations. It is as if colleges, students, and most certainly vocational qualifications do not exist. Sometimes, one senses that, where post-16 education and training are mentioned, it is a bit like the tokenism paid to equal opportunities.

Those who should know better include the Institute of Physics and the Association for Science Education. The Royal Academy of Engineering never mentions colleges.

Language is so very, very important in raising the profile of the FE sector and I make a plea that associations and institutions do make significant reference to colleges of FE and the very credible and valuable area of vocational qualifications.

Too often empty rhetoric or lip service is paid to these awards. A good example is the recent Dearing review: "Let's change the title of general national vocational qualifications to applied A-levels." As if changing the name will create parity of esteem.

The worrying feature about this is not only the removal of the word "vocational" in the title but also putting in the expression "A-levels". It's the good old "gold standard" back. The one that a few politicians want to see as being the absolute benchmark from which everything is referenced.

The FE sector and its colleges is having a difficult time at present and it is even more important that its profile is raised. Very often it is called a "Cinderella of sectors", but if one remembers the story of Cinderella, it almost seems now that for us, the story finishes at the end of the ball and everything reverts back to the sad, under-resourced past.

I hope organisations that do stage post-16 events take the FE sector seriously. Also, it is essential that institutions and associations become more aware of the sector and reflect this in their annual reports and their commitments to education. The message should not just be about schools, important as they may be, it should also be that FE is very important.

It is up to all of us to point out to these organisations, every time they ignore us, that more people go to university from FE than from schools, and that there are more post-16 students in colleges than in the school and university sectors combined.

Dick Evans is the principal of Stockport College of further and higher education

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