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Should have stayed the course

Your headline last week, "Courses are extraordinarily expensive", picked out the one jarring note in an otherwise thought-provoking and well-received speech by Ewan Hunter at the highly successful Learning Unlimited conference on critical skills and the national priorities.

Had Ewan been able to stay for the remainder of the conference, he would have heard my colleague Linda Marshall point out that his "extraordinarily expensive" figure of pound;1,000 was based on the cost of an individual place at an open institute, whereas serious commitment to in-house training brings the figure down to under pound;700 or comfortably less than pound;120 per day - well below the average cost of commercial in-service training.

As you report, he would also have heard Professor Ted Wragg say that the beneficial impact of critical skills training is "unusually high". At an implementation rate of 85 per cent, it might also be called "extraordinarily high".

But in any case, surely quality and value are more significant than cost per se. For example, Professor Wragg also pointed out that, unlike critical skills, most improvement initiatives produce little or no benefits in the classroom. Indeed, your FE section last week contained a report of a pound;100 million Government initiative aimed at improving participation by 16-19s, which had failed to have any measurable impact at all.

By contrast, Professor Wragg's study shows that critical skills motivates young people of all ages to engage in learning and helps them to raise their achievements and prepare effectively for life and work in the 21st century. It is, in short, "extraordinarily cost-effective".

Colin Weatherley Critical Skills Programme manager (Scotland) The Paddock Gullane, East Lothian

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