Another View - Adult education cuts, ending pay gap - more questions than answers

7th May 2010 at 01:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

It wasn't much to ask. All I wanted was an answer to four questions.

The idea came from my trade body, the University and College Union. "Put your local candidates to the test," it urged, by asking them some specific questions on further education. Helpfully, it provided some examples. But these seemed a bit vague to me, so I went with my own instead.

Boiled down to their essence, these were as follows:

- What is your vision for the future of FE?

- Would you be prepared to reverse the present cuts in adult education?

- How would you reduce the huge administrative and bureaucratic demands currently being heaped on FE teachers?

- Would you commit to ending the pay gap between FE and schools?

Each candidate in my constituency was emailed separately. I said I was a floating voter, which meant their replies might make a difference to one voter at least.

Within a few hours I had my first response, from the Independent candidate standing on a "None of the Above" ticket. You could tell he wasn't a "real" politician from his frank opening sentence. "I do not," he wrote, "have a coherent policy on education."

Next came the UKIP candidate's reply. She said yes to pretty much everything. "I do not agree with cutting adult learning budgets by 25 per cent," she wrote. Lecturer overload was down to "the PC nonsense promulgated by New Labour" which should be dispensed with forthwith. And yes, she would end the pay gap with schools. So where would the money come from to pay for all this? From Europe stupid! Once UKIP had pulled us out, there would apparently be billions of pounds left over for everything.

I wasn't thinking of voting Independent or UKIP so I waited for my response from the others. A day passed. Pretty soon it was a week. Sad to say, it seems that where I live the main parties are too busy kissing babies to answer questions on FE.

So it looked like I'd have to do the job for them. Starting with the cause of most of our recent woes, Labour. "Dear Stephen," I emailed myself, "we have recently discovered that apprenticeships are a good idea. We haven't delivered many so far, but be assured that in future, oodles of young people are going to become apprentices - whether they like it or not.

"On the question of cuts to adult education, you can hardly expect us to reverse them when we put so much effort into creating them. As for lecturer workload and the pay gap with schools, we sympathise. On the other hand, how many votes do you think there are in boosting lecturers' pay, dummy?"

Funnily enough, the Tories have also decided that the future of FE lies in . apprenticeships. Never mind that they spent so many of their post-war years in power dismantling them. Now, according to their manifesto, they are preparing to create 100,000 extra apprenticeships every year.

And, hallelujah, that manifesto provides an answer to one of my questions. They will, they say, "cut bureaucracy and inspections in colleges so teaching staff can spend less time in the office and more time in the classroom". Sounds good. But hang on. Read that another way and what are they threatening to do? Put up teaching hours, that's what!

As for the Lib Dems, they have not cottoned on to the fact that apprenticeships are the answer to everything. That's because they're too busy grasping the nettle that the other parties have refused to grasp for so long: abolishing A-levels in favour of an all-embracing academicvocational diploma.

But will they get the chance to put such a bold initiative into practice? That's where you, dear readers, have the advantage over me. As I write this, I don't know the outcome of the election. As you read it, you do!

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