Editor's Comment

20th February 2004 at 00:00
One could be forgiven for thinking the Tomlinson review of 14-19 qualifications has nothing to do with colleges. The biggest players on the scene and they get barely a mention in the interim report this week.

The top table at the high-profile launch in London had representatives from universities, private schools, industry and school inspectors. True, we did hear schools minister David Miliband citing colleges during his reactions to the report on the radio. But that was it, and it smacked of tokenism.

The language of the report is all about schools, universities and employers rather than FE. There is no feeling in the wider debate that colleges are being taken seriously - even though the whole show will crash without their effective participation.

This is no exaggeration. Perhaps Mr Tomlinson needs reminding about what colleges do. They take over 60 per cent of the one million post-16 students. They have expanded the intake of 14 to 16-year-olds, on tailor-made courses that schools cannot provide, to more than 100,000 in just four years.

That's 60,000 more than the target set by the Government that created the Tomlinson review. Colleges also put a greater percentage of post-16 students through to HE than do schools.

They do all this from a far weaker starting point. They get at least 10 per cent less cash per A-level student than schools - an injustice that ministers have failed to tackle - and are challenged with a far greater proportion of under-achieving 14 to 16-year - olds than most schools have to cope with.

As FE Focus has repeatedly revealed, colleges do not just depend on A-levels. They innovate to produce a range of diploma-style courses that serve as close models for what Tomlinson proposes. The Association of Colleges has warned ministers theycannot count on the continued goodwill of lecturers and admin staff to implement reforms.

These reforms are supposed to create a more inclusive and motivating 14-19 system. From the FE perspective, it still looks pretty elitist.

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