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No point in lamenting new college culture

Rob Peutrell's lament in your issue of August 22, "Business culture creeps into FE" (TES, August 22), fails to recognise fundamental realities.

One such reality is that incorporation has been with us since 1993 and so have year-on-year efficiency gains, an inadequate funding quantum, a complex and inequitable funding regime, burdensome audit and data collection, public accountability, convergence, individualised contracts, and value-for-money pressures on all public sector spending. Equally real have been divisive and demoralising government policies, the inept handling of the Total Standard Spending regulation changes and the dramatic removal of demand-led element funding. Organisational restructure and redundancy is now a process, not an event, and there is serious instability in the sector.

What this means is that we are experiencing a new culture and it is a culture which demands attitudinal change. For example, our students are certainly our customers whose collective and individual needs are paramount and this must be the starting point for all staff.

It must also be recognised that the college managers have very different responsibilities and require very different specialist skills than was the case when they were local education authority employees. Another reality is that managers are just as vulnerable as teachers and are being removed from the sector at the same rates, so we have fewer managers, more responsibilities.

None of this means, however, that our vision and our values are necessarily compromised and that the quality of our provision is sacrificed. We can sit and lament change, or we can anticipate and use change as a management tool; we can brood on the benign (yet grossly inefficient) days of pre-incorporation, or we can publicise and celebrate our achievements since incorporation; we can sit and wait for the next capricious government policy or we can seek to influence those policies.

These are challenges and opportunities ahead and the Association for College Management will meet these challenges through its corporate management teams and in partnership with corporation boards and other representative associations. But all staff, and not just the managers, must become stakeholders in the sector's future. There is no doubt that there is a need for new value systems upon which to base a coherent national vision for further and higher education, values which will retain the imperative of competition balanced by more collaborative ventures and set within clear national, regional and local strategies.

There is much to be done and no time for lamenting.

JOHN MOWBRAY

General secretary Association for College Management 15 The Beacons Appley Bridge Shevington Wigan Lancashire

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