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Students' leader attacks funding

Labour took a pasting at a 14-19 education conference, Steve Hook reports

Students' leader Kat Fletcher launched a blistering attack on college funding in a speech to principals this week.

The National Union of Students' president also called on colleges to give students a central role in running their affairs - and promised it will join them in lobbying for more government cash.

More students are becoming frustrated because of what she says is insufficient funding of colleges, according to Ms Fletcher.

She was speaking at a conference on 14-19 education in Stratford-upon-Avon, on Tuesday, run by the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges'


"The overwhelming majority of our five million members study in the further education system," she said. "The learning and skills sector is chronically under-funded.

"Many students are forced to live in fear and apprehension that courses they have chosen to study will be cut or curtailed due to lack of funding or suitably qualified lecturing and support staff."

She called on the Learning and Skills Council to release a report it commissioned from the Learning and Skills Development Agency on the 12-14 per cent funding gap between colleges and schools.

The quango has refused to release the document until it goes public with its "Agenda for Change" initiative next month.

The Association of Colleges has demanded its release under the Freedom of Information Act.

Despite the Government's stated focus on vocational training, Ms Fletcher says NUS members have problems because of the lack of level 3 (A-level equivalent) provision for adults and the poor quality of some courses.

She said the Government has let down students by failing to heed the Tomlinson working party, which recommended replacing A-levels and GCSEs with a diploma or baccalaureate.

"When the Secretary of State rose to her feet to deliver the Government's response to Tomlinson, we, like many others, felt comprehensively let down.

"Our message to the Government and to the Department for Education and Skills is clear. You can run but you cannot hide from the fact that sooner or later you will have to move to some modified 'Bac' system that properly integrates types and styles of 14-19 learning," she said.

The Government's actions represented double standards from the perspective of her members, she said. While students lose marks for failing to do research, she suggested, ministers do their research but ignore the findings.

"If my members lose marks for not doing their research, then just look at policy-makers. The research is clear. It's not the qualification that counts. Sadly, policy-makers continually underestimate that research," she said.

The union claims colleges could do more to ensure students have a voice on governing bodies. Colleges are obliged to have a student governor, although many struggle to find volunteers.

Ms Fletcher argues this could be made easier if colleges agreed to have two student governors - providing further encouragement to students who may feel intimidated by being surrounded by older people, many from the business community, who are accustomed to performing in meetings.

The Centre of Excellence in Leadership has been working with the NUS to try to improve the quality of student governors.

Ms Fletcher said: "We can tell a lot about a college's ethos from its endeavours to find student governors. I know that finding and keeping governors in general is hard, but ironically it's the ones under our noses that can be the hardest."


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