30th October 2009 at 00:00
Election overload and why don't we know how many students are in FE?

Places of paradox

There must be an election looming, FErret's political antennae inform him, because the number of contradictory press releases from the parties has experienced a sharp uptick.

Take apprenticeships. The Government crows that a record number of new apprentices started last year, with 234,000 chiselled workers wielding hammers and sickles to usher in a golden age of productivity for the glory of the motherland.

Meanwhile, the Tories note that apprenticeships fell by nearly a third year-on-year in the last quarter, placing the blame squarely on Sir Alan Sugar's publicity campaign - presumably creating unwelcome associations with products like the Amstrad E-m@iler.

Both may have a point: although the Tories are being highly selective, they might be spotting the beginning of a recessionary trend. The real question is: if we can't use up all the available apprenticeship places now, what are we going to do when the Conservatives add 100,000 more?

What a total tease

How hard is it to find out how many students are in FE? Every one enrolled goes straight on to a college computer system, so feeding this back centrally in real time shouldn't be beyond the century that brought you bombing the moon.

Instead, FErret's colleagues have been trying for weeks to prise out the results of a Learning and Skills Council stock-take, presumably conducted via carrier pigeon.

Meanwhile, colleges such as Andover are beating a path to their local media to show their popularity, with enrolment up 20 per cent. And well they might: since they'll probably be forking out for the cost of educating many of the extra students themselves, they should take the credit.

LSC officials assure us that we will hear the figures - and how well the September guarantee has held up in the face of the recession - after ministers are told. Can't they just send them an email?

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