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Out of control but still in command

SO how was it for you? According to most of the lecturers who responded to a poll on the FE Focus website, colleges would be better off returning to the control of local education authorities.

We asked some leading figures in FE for their verdict on the past 10 years.

Professor David Melville, former chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council. Now vice-chancellor of Kent University.

"On incorporation the sector has achieved immeasurably more than it would have done without it. FE has become a national sector.

"Previously colleges were very local in their thinking. The practice, funding and quality were very much more individualistic.

"You would not have that investment and the Government seeing it as part of its agenda for the economy. So it has become a platform for meeting a major education issue in this country - intermediate-level skills.

"If you compare the FE sector with the other half of what is now the learning and skills sector, the FE colleges always out-perform the private training providers in terms of volume and quality.

"And that is an impressive record - to have a public system that out-performs the private sector."

Tim Boswell, Conservative MP for Daventry and an education minister involved in the incorporation of colleges. He is now a shadow education spokesman.

"I think the 10 years of freedom have been worthwhile and the advantages greatly outweigh any disadvantages.

"There is a continuing difficulty in establishing vocational qualifications as a coherent structure which gives the equivalent parity of esteem.

"Secondly, there have been some concerns about the management and governance of individual colleges and their ability to deliver. And under the present administration I think there has been something of a reversal from the hands-off model.

"They have interfered more, and I think not always in a sensitive way or to best effect. It has been a success. There have been setbacks but I am sure it has been thoroughly worthwhile, and I'm anxious that anything that goes on in the future should be supportive of FE."

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management.

"It has been a tremendously stressful 10 years. I was vice-principal of Greenhill College in Harrow at the time of incorporation, and in the early days there was too much competition encouraged between colleges, and swings in policy.

"Now I think we are coming out of that. The resolution of this year's pay and negotiations and the focusing on the modernising pay agenda with the extra money from Education Secretary Charles Clarke actually gives us a rosy outlook.

"I think we now have the chance to show the decision-makers that FE can deliver."

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union.

"It is time to end the failed experiment. It was supposed to liberate colleges. It then resulted in anything up to half of them being in debt and now half of them are labouring under the weight of the biggest quango in Europe, a pound;7 billion Learning and Skills Council edifice, much of which is unnecessary for the delivery of good-quality education.

"We would like to see a more democratic element in college governance.

"At present they are run by self-perpetuating oligarchies. And we have a situation where the number of hours of tuition that students receive has been reduced and squeezed year on year.

"Lecturers' pay, for vastly increased workloads, has been reduced to the extent where it is 12 per cent behind schoolteachers."

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