1st January 1999 at 00:00
Further education colleges will face their biggest challenge so far in 1999 - the first phase of a two-year programme to recruit 700,000 students from some of the most excluded sectors in society.

The Pounds 725 million programme sounded very attractive when unveiled in November. It is nevertheless a formidable task, as the focus is on the disadvantaged, low achievers, school failures and drop-outs, minorities, homeless and groups long discarded as unemployable.

Mr Blunkett has chosen FE as the engine to drive Britain towards a more inclusive society. If the colleges fail, the nation fails. Overwhelming evidence will emerge in the coming months from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Government's own Social Exclusion Unit, to show that countries that fail to combat exclusion will be the "poor nations" of the next millennium.

This means new ways must be found urgently to convince those students that they must include themselves in the further education agenda.

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