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Strong links in Richmond;FE Focus;Viewpoint;Opinion

THE FE Focus article on tertiary education in Richmond (May 1) gave the impression that the college operates in isolation within the London Borough of Richmond. However, in fact, it links with the council at all levels and these links are even stronger now than before the incorporation of further education colleges.

The article neglects to refer to the strength of the all-through education system in Richmond, which is viewed with admiration and envy by other LEAs. Consequently, it fails to record the significance of the partnership between secondary schools and the college and likewise the links between the college and Richmond's primary schools.

This system attracts much attention and a significant number of students. With excellent A-level results and matching vocational results, the college is consistently top of the league of further education colleges in London.

Last year it sent more than 900 students to higher education courses. However, we do not want to be complacent. We are working with the LEA and schools towards the realisation of a lifelong learning model from pre-school onwards, which will embrace a 14 to 19 curriculum spanning the academicvocational divide.

This is the focus of a new strategy of education and training provision for Richmond, and rightly so since the council, its schools and the college wants to achieve the joint aim of lifelong learning with an appropriate curriculum offer for all students - young, old, full-time, part-time, parents, employees, employers, the very able, and those who do not find learning easy.

We wish to be inclusive in both the curriculum offered and in its delivery. The mission is to provide a programme to suit the needs of the individual, along with a learning system to which the learner can best respond.

This is the way forward, not down the path back to an elitist system that failed to meet even the needs of the minority selected. Choice needs to be seen as a choice of curriculum, not of institution, and students' programmes as an entitlement that must fit them for the future, not the past.

However, the proposition of stand-alone sixth forms in Richmond was surely simply borne out of mischief stemming from an election dream - a dream that fortunately was not to come true. For those who proposed the system that could not be financed would not have been supported, and would have betrayed the best interests of students, parents, and all in the education system of Richmond.

Eric Kirby is principal of Richmond upon Thames Tertiary College

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