Colleges at risk of shock to the core

2nd February 2007 at 00:00

You've heard it before and you'll no doubt hear it again, the familiar cry that, while a government initiative is welcome, it is not sufficiently funded.

Colleges and ministers know the routine all too well. Colleges turn out their pockets, staring up like wide-eyed orphans. Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, stands over them wagging his finger and pointing out that they have had plenty of money already.

We wouldn't expect it to be any different: a Labour minister keen to avoid being seen to throw money around like confetti, and colleges muddling along with what they have and generally getting the job done. It's a compromise from which both sides can take some credit.

So why should we take seriously the funding problem laid bare on our front page? The answer is simple. Colleges have been doing a sterling job at correcting what can only be described as a failure of the school system: its inability to grapple with "vocationally inclined" 14 to 16-year-olds.

Of course, we are being kind in describing the increased flexibility programme as a government initiative. The approach - which involves giving young teenagers a taste of FE - had been adopted by many colleges long before the term was dreamt up. But it was never the intention that colleges should bail out schools financially.

Quite apart from lecturers being asked to rescue the charges of their better paid (and often better qualified) colleagues in schools, there is the question of colleges' core funding being drained by the programme.

If colleges really are businesses, then they must learn to say no when they are invited to take part in a venture that is going to lose them money and damage their core activities. There are signs that this is beginning to happen.

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