FE Focus Editor's comment

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Government ministers insist there is enough money for illiterate adults and they are tackling the problem. Colleges say there is not and cannot do the business.

With unprecedented growth in the number of adults signing-up for basic literacy and numeracy classes - 250,000 in 2001, rising to 320,000 last year - who is right?

Well, both sides are. But are John Brennan (see letter, below) and Ivan Lewis, adult skills minister (FE Focus, April 2), talking about the same thing? While the Government deserves credit for the most concerted attack yet on illiteracy and innumeracy, colleges do not see the benefits of the 2002 announcement of a record three-year pound;1.2 billion rise benefiting adults.

The reason in part is the drain created by prior commitments and huge increases in pensions and National Insurance payments. Also, there has been a shift in priorities, making the educationally least deprived pay more for their further studies - freeing state cash for the most needy.

No one would argue with the latter point, were things that simple.

Unfortunately, the world of further learning does not fall into two neat camps. There is a huge group of middling achievers who still desperately need cash support. And as any college manager will tell Mr Lewis, these are the natural group for FE recruitment. This is where cash constraints are doing most damage.

At its worse, this is a re-emergence of the iniquitous Schedule 2 funding regime in another guise as ministers concentrate limited cash on getting people qualified to GCSE-equivalent level 2 at the expense of other courses.

The colleges argue now as then - before Schedule 2 funding was abolished - that without money to sustain wider interest in learning, the seeds of basic skills training increasingly fall on stony ground.

Which brings us back to a Comprehensive Spending Review that appeared to be more generous than it was. Maybe the Association of Colleges was too quick in 2002 to see the pound;1.2bn as sufficient (it had asked for nearer pound;2bn).

This time round, the association insists pound;1.9bn is needed to meet demands placed on colleges. With the General Election looming, it should think hard before expressing satisfaction with anything less. It should also read the CSR smallprint on further pension-like demands that may be in the offing.

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