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Strength throughone voice

Nadine Cartner explains why college managers support the Charlotte Group but David Forrester, below, says politicians will only listen if we stop whingeing

A year ago the learning and skills sector's national organisations met to discuss ways of working together to create a stronger, more persuasive presence. The Association for College Management had promoted the meeting to encourage reflection and introspection.

The question was: how might the sector improve its position, power and stature, and make it politically indispensable?

There is a perception that we are on the receiving end of too many unfavourable decisions, and that policies made by ministers, politicians and policy-makers have reduced our power and influence, despite stout work by representative organisations.

Long-term, this perceived lack of esteem has eroded our collective confidence, and a sense of helplessness has crept in. As a professional community, we have grown defensive and cynical - a state that guarantees our continued powerlessness.

ACM wanted to explore how the sector might regain power, building on shared values, analysis and evidence to rebuild confidence and make us all more effective advocates of the service.

We imagine that the nature of that service - and the evidence of the role we play in helping communities and the economy prosper - make a compelling case that the Government must find irresistible. Then, when our case fails, we stand on the moral high ground gasping in disbelief.

Wherever did we get the idea that public services receive the funding and respect they deserve? Certainly not from the real world.

If it were so, social workers would be widely admired, hospital scleaners well-trained, and nurses highly paid. A high level of moral worth does not automatically bring a high level of political influence. So the ACM asked the Charlotte Group: how could we use our collective intelligence and political nous to achieve our ambitions for the sector, and what tactics would help to make us more powerful?

As in any profession, traditional rivalries, distrust and organisational vested interests can hamper efforts to work collectively. But the concord itself - published in FE Focus, June 3 - is powerful evidence that our differences fade in comparison with the common ground: our commitment to students, responsibility to communities and to the economy, and our recognition that only a highly professional, respected and well-paid workforce with modern people-centred leadership will lead to a first-rate service.

Within local communities, colleges have considerable prestige, recognition and support. The concord project aims to make the sector just as effective nationally.

The concord document was a first step that focused us on our shared goals.

It may not say anything that has not already been said, but we had not said it in unison before. The document is a starting point for working together - a symbol of what we want to achieve.

The next stage might be to agree our goals, clearly define the challenge and mobilise expert communications and leadership to help us to achieve the national presence that the sector we serve deserves. The long-term goal is to transform the status of this sector.

Nadine Cartner is head of policy at the Association for College Managementemail: nadinecartner@acm.uk.com

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