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Second chances rule third term

Further education has supplanted schools at the top of Labour's agenda for a third term, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, told the Labour conference this week.

Mr Clarke told delegates that adult skills and 14-19 reform are two of his top three priorities for education over the next few years.

Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools, is due to publish the results of his inquiry into 14-19 education within weeks.

Mr Clarke was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research. Childcare was his third priority, he said, adding that extending school opening hours also ranked highly.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, also stressed adult skills in his speech, saying that Labour was making a "historic promise" and offering "a second chance in education for all".

The inquiry into 14 to 19 education sparked one of the biggest rows of the conference at a fringe meeting organised by the Association of Colleges.

Professor Alan Smithers, director for the centre of education and employment research at Buckingham university, was involved in a loud argument with Mr Tomlinson after criticising his draft proposals.

Professor Smithers said that the proposed diploma clashed with the current education system and might deter students from attending further education colleges.

"Mike Tomlinson's trying to turn a deciduous tree into a conifer - it's not only going to be difficult, it's going to be ugly as well," he said. "He's barking up the wrong tree."

Mr Tomlinson accused Professor Smithers of being obsessed with "bloody qualifications" and suggested he was out of touch with the realities of education.

"Where the hell are you?" he asked. "Which world are you inhabiting?"

FE lecturers present appeared to back Mr Tomlinson, heckling Professor Smithers and accusing him of repeating old arguments.

David Miliband, minister for school standards, arrived late, saying that he had heard from delegates outside that there had been "a big barney". He added that he hoped the pair had reached "progressive consensus".

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