It's tough when you don't have a ticket to the ball;Commentary;Opinion;FE Focus

20th February 1998 at 00:00
The frustration factor is high in further education this month. Yet again, like Cinderella, we have been excluded from the main event. In the week that a seminal piece of social policy research set out proposals to address the problem of social exclusion in Scotland, the Secretary of State launched a "green" paper looking for suggestions from across Scotland which might be built into the Government's social exclusion strategy.

Why the frustration? The answer is simple. Neither the Scottish Council Foundation's Three Nations report nor the Scottish Office paper Social Exclusion in Scotland mention the role of further education. It is ironic that Donald Dewar chose Castlemilk, where my own college operates a community campus, to kick-start the assault on Scotland's social divisions. The Glenwood campus is a classic example of the partnership approach. It is based on the pooling of locally based agency resources (urban programme and European structural funds) and boasts a genuine contribution to the regeneration of Castlemilk.

It is widely agreed that our targeted skills training has contributed to the 16 per cent fall in unemployment rates in the area since 1989. Likewise, we are told that our school-link programme, homework clubs and specialist courses for "refuseniks" have helped improve secondary school attendance (up 6 per cent since the campus opened) and progression rates to further and higher education (up 16 per cent to an impressive 23 per cent). The campus also operates capacity-building programmes for housing associations and other local groups and supports the anti-poverty activities of the city's social work department and community education. This is the tip of the iceberg.

All 43 of Scotland's colleges contribute in some way to the national attack on social exclusion and poverty. Most have contributed to the Scottish Wider Access Programme which, since 1988, has successfully steered more than 10,000 people from disadvantaged backgrounds through FE into higher education.

Currently, Glasgow City Council sponsors more than 6,000 adults on college-run community-based learning programmes aimed at promoting subsidised access. Collectively, colleges spend pound;40 million annually matching our own resources into European funds in order to provide vocational training and lifelong learning for the unemployed and promote economic and social regeneration. Most colleges operate fee waiver policies which promote educational inclusion and dismantle barriers to learning. My own college waived fees for more than 2,000 people this session to a value of pound;800,000.

All of this shows that FE is no new convert to the cause of social inclusion. Colleges are, in fact, community resources designed and operated to promote social inclusion. We are stakeholders in the partnership movement and look forward to playing a role in fulfilling the promise of a greater co-ordination of effort on policies to tackle social exclusion. This requires that the briefings presented to Scottish Office ministers include a further education focus in order that ministers might display open minds with respect to any shifting of financial priorities either now or as part of the Treasury's comprehensive spending review.

As an opening shot I offer six proposals that would allow FE to support the cause and prevent unnecessary duplication.

* All welfare-to-work initiatives should continue to include a role for FE and under no circumstances should any co-ordinating agency receive a management fee. Individual beneficiaries deserve the maximum support possible.

* Colleges should be afforded equal status with other agencies in Programme for Partnership areas.

* Colleges should be given a prominent role in the Healthier Scotland campaign.

* Colleges should be given access to the Alternatives to Exclusion Grants Scheme.

* Colleges should be given a role in implementing the national childcare strategy.

* New and additional "soft" performance indicators should be developed taking account of changing aspirations and individual value added.

Echoing Tony Blair, the Scottish Council Foundation's report urges us to aspire to involve those people who do not have the means, material or otherwise, to participate in social, economic, political and cultural life. I am reminded of a comment made to me in 1993 by, Linda, one of Langside's Castlemilk students. She said: "Thanks to Glenwood I can now read bedtime stories to my daughter."

The fact that she how has an HND and a job crystallises the effect that FE can have on social exclusion - within its existing resource capacity. The Cinderella service doesn't need a fairy godmother, merely an invitation to the ball.

Graeme Hyslop is depute principal at Langside College Glasgow and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. He writes in a personal capacity.

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