Cameron hears principal issues

5th June 2009 at 01:00
The Tory leader meets college heads in the North to learn their concerns and set out his plans for FE

David Cameron learnt first hand about the financial problems facing further education when he visited Barnsley College for a round-table discussion with principals last week.

The Conservative party leader was left in little doubt about the acute capital problems facing the sector as he joined Colin Booth, the college's principal, for a walk around the site where its headquarters will be built if it receives funding from the Learning and Skills Council.

Mr Booth said: "We were very interested in Mr Cameron's long-term views on college capital funding.

"My belief is that the system that was in place - where colleges spend all their cash reserves, take out a loan and get money from the LSC - just encourages large projects and not long-term management of funding.

"It encourages you to get as poor as possible as quickly as possible so that you get the largest possible percentage contribution from the LSC.

"I don't feel we have clarity from the Conservatives yet on their long- term plans for capital funding. But Mr Cameron listened carefully."

Those present - six principals from colleges in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, as well as Phil Blakey, director of finance at Selby College, and Caroline Rowley, the Association of Colleges' regional representative - also raised concerns about the treatment of 16-19 funding for FE colleges compared with schools.

One principal said that their college would be Pounds 2 million better off if it got the same level of funding for teaching as a school sixth form.

Mr Booth said: "Mr Cameron was interested in what we had to say and that such a difference existed."

The issue struck a particular chord with Alison Birkinshaw, principal of York College, which recently completed a Pounds 60 million rebuild and which runs a substantial programme of A- and AS-levels.

Dr Birkinshaw told Mr Cameron that she was against the principle that almost any school that wants a sixth form should have one, even if a college nearby is already providing courses for sixth formers.

"Policies that are not developed strategically, without an overview of further education, can destabilise the excellent work that is going on in the sector," she said.

Michele Sutton, principal of Bradford College, said: "Mr Cameron recognised that FE is a critical part of the renewal of skills in the UK and that investment in FE is, therefore, critical. This was good to hear."

Mr Cameron told the principals that his party's approach to funding would be based on education funds following the learner and that it would look at measuring learning outcomes rather than processes.

He encouraged principals to continue to speak to Conservative MPs regarding issues and concerns.

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