We are all principals in local colleges of further education (sixth form, general FE, tertiary and specialist colleges) which together educate and train some 4 million 16 to 19-year-olds and adults.
On the day when the Association of Colleges is lobbying Parliament for an enhanced FE funding settlement, we urge the Government to listen closely to what is being requested.
Ministers are poised to make decisions about the increased budget of pound;8.5 billion for education, made available in the March 17 Budget. The claims of FE must not be overlooked.
Chancellor Gordon Brown said recently that our national success in globalised markets was secure only if we make the right long-term decisions on stability, science, skills and enterprise, and that in return for investment he would demand the highest standards in schools and colleges.
We welcome the Government's increased education spend, the broad thrust of its skills strategy and the growing acknowledgement of the role played by FE in building skills for both teenagers and adults.
But the gains envisaged by Mr Brown can be won only if FE, responsible for the education of nearly twice as many 16 to 18-year-olds as schools, and for placing 10 times more qualified adults into the economy than employers, receives an appropriate slice of the money.
We commend to the Government the AoC's proposal for pound;1.9bn to be spent within FE. This will help correct the inexplicable 10 per cent difference in the resources available to young people studying in colleges rather than schools.
It will help to equalise the rewards available to FE lecturers compared to schoolteachers, who do exactly the same job. Already, more than 40 per cent of those entering university have passed through an FE college, and national ambitions for greater access to higher education by 2010 are dependent on young people and adults taking the FE route.
We must reverse the threat of widespread cuts to the funding of adult learning and skills. Colleges are already losing courses for adult basic skills upwards, including many technician courses in plumbing, construction, IT, care and nursing. More post-19 course places have already been cut than are available on the whole of the Government's flagship apprentice programme post-19.
The AoC National Parliamentary Day for Colleges gives MPs, ministers and officials the chance to focus on the claims that the sector is making. We urge all concerned not to fudge the opportunity that these claims imply for our future.
Joanna Tait Bishop Aukland college
Nick Lewis Broxtowe
Alan Stanhope Cornwall
David Croll Derby
Jonathan Godfrey Hereford SFC
Rob Wilkinson Hills Road SFC
Ruth Silver Lewisham
Neil Hopkins, Peter Symonds, Graham Moore Stoke