College deal offers real hope

8th June 2007 at 01:00

Once again the Government has called in the cavalry - aka further education - to come to the rescue of our schools (page 3).

Pete Birkett may not say it in so many words but his college - as the first to be allowed to sponsor and run two school academies - is clearly the knight in shining armour to the compulsory education system's damsel in distress.

If Barnfield College in Luton succeeds in turning round the fortunes of the nearby schools, then FE - already doing the business for under-16s under the increased flexibility programme - should score brownie points never before imagined at the schools division of the Department for Education and Skills.

Academy sponsorship has been a controversial area. The ratio of cash invested to kudos gained heavily favours the sponsor. But this deal is different. The schools are not being sponsored by businesses with no intrinsic expertise in education. The benefit will be a fresh set of ideas coming from an existing partner in the same locality.

Mr Birkett could have been forgiven for looking forward to his pension as the principal of one of the most successful colleges in the country. But instead, he and his governors have staked their reputations on the notion that these schools can do better under their control.

This kind of risk-taking is not untypical of FE, which has earned a reputation as the part of the education system most willing and able to adapt in a changing world.

In Luton, at least, children will not have to wait until their teens before they benefit from the life-changing influence of colleges.

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