Myopic leadership

28th February 2003 at 00:00
DAVIDHunter, leader of the National Training Organisation for Further Education, believes we should ask ourselves "whether the country needs more graduates or more skills at level 2 (GCSE equivalent)". He doesn't want the best FE colleges to become "new polytechnics" and worries that UK plc may grow to have "the highest-qualified checkout operators in the world" (FE Focus, February 21).

What better metaphor for the abyss between students, the sector's practitioners and the leader charged with setting standards.

David's check-out operator probably achieved his or her level 2 with the help of the local FE college. Increasingly, such awards are achievable via work-based, online and distance learning. But the operator in question may have chosen the more traditional route of attending an FE college at times to suit both operator and employer.

Let us suppose that, as a result of her level 2 studies, our operator developed that itch for learning that school was unable to scratch. Where does our operator go next? The university in the nearby city is expensive and too far away, but the local college offers a level 3 (A-level standard) access to a higher education course, with the supermarket compensated for picking up the training bill. The access course leads in turn to a foundation degree in retail and distribution management at the same college and offers clear routes of progression from one to the other.

Even if those pathways aren't open at present, they could be, given an equitable funding split between colleges and employers seeking home-grown managers with skills developed on the shop floor.

Apart from Mr Hunter and FENTO, nobody who works in the job disputes that FE colleges are best-placed to deliver technical and vocational higher education.

Nursing cadets, for instance, move smoothly through FE via increasing ward-based practice, using NVQ evidence routes that offer a path to a degree in nursing. After graduation, these nurses will continue their professional development throughout their careers. And what better place to keep up to date than at their local college? That this country has the best nurses in the world is a testament to these students' hard work, enabled as it is through the dedication of FE management and lecturers.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke is considering the constituent members for the new Sector Skills Council that will help to set future standards for FE. Let us hope he will not be duped into believing that Mr Hunter and FENTO truly represent the sector. One hopes that the quality-driven expertise of the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate will play a major role in any new standardisation body.

The best FE colleges work with, not for, trainees, and they are vital engines driving economic growth. Mr Hunter's myopic "FENTO focus" would see the sector reduced to a provider of key stage 3 maths and English "by other measures".

Pete Keeffe

Senior lecturer

Initial Teacher Education

Hopwood Hall College (HEFE)

Rochdale, Lancashire (writing in a personal capacity)

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