Now it's the minister's turn to say yes to our claim

19th September 1997 at 01:00
It has been intriguing to observe the consensus in further education since new Labour came to power. It took just over 100 days to insist that the era of market forces is over. We are now categorically a further education sector.

Ministerial statements at the Association of Scottish Colleges conference in Dunkeld and in response to the recent HMI report on standards and quality reinforce the consensus. By attacking unnecessary competition and duplication Brian Wilson is signalling the need for a radical review of all aspects of the sector's viability and capacity to support Scotland's competitiveness.

The democratic decision to establish a Scottish parliament provides an ideal opportunity for the further education sector to stake its own claim of right. The FE claim of right is based on a yes campaign which has lasted more than 13 years.

We said yes to the last government's action plan and delivered in less than three years, yes to student-centred learning and the development of curriculum units, yes to being a testing ground for a multiplicity of initiatives ahead of other sectors, for example, to the publication of performance indicators, guaranteed access programmes, curriculum guidelines, vouchers for adult education, corporate development planning, the publication of annual reports, challenge budgets, a centralised guidance database and staff developmentappraisal schemes.

Under the last administration we said yes to incorporation (with its growth targets and efficiencies), local bargaining, administering bursaries and Lord Nolan's principles of openness. Likewise, we have by increments said yes to the audit revolution from devolved centre status and national kitemarks like Investors in People, to revised HMI models based upon self-evaluation. The sector, furthermore, said yes to implementing Higher Still, to a radical overhaul of its role in providing higher education and to approaches to initial and continuing professional development.

The yes campaign has been reinforced by a wide range of collaborative partnerships within the sector like the Glasgow Telecolleges Network and with partners from outside the sector in such initiatives as LIAISE, AEGIS and the Scottish Campaign for Learning.

The FE claim of right has four cornerstones. Much of what I suggest can be achieved within existing post-16 budgets and will not require a great deal of legislative endeavour.

First, more equitable distribution of resources for post-16 education and training would redress the situation where further education receives 33 per cent of the funding but accounts for 75 per cent of the activity.

Ministers should say yes to directly linking planning and funding in a manner in which democratic accountability is assured and there is transparency in decision-making. The transfer of acrimony to another quango is not appropriate at this time. There should be a minimum of change to a funding methodology which is working quite well.

Undue haste may, unintentionally, damage the sector's ability to continue to provide comprehensive lifelong learning. Funds should be provided (diverted from local enterprise company budgets) to colleges to directly attack social exclusion and socio-economic disadvantage.

Ministers should also say yes to developing a single student funding mechanism specific to further education which is income contingent and responsive to need to attacking the capital deficit in the sector by restricting the public finance initiative to new build, channelling an element of the windfall tax into an FE capital fund and insisting on leverage in all FE capital projects, thus assuring FE participation in the new deal and reducing "top slices" to a minimum.

It may be necessary to rationalise, and perhaps merge, central bodies such as the Scottish Further Education Unit, the Micro Electronics Development Centre and the Scottish Community Education Council.

Second, in line with policy initiatives in Europe and emerging proposals in England, local territorial approaches to planning education and training, with colleges as full partners, should be encouraged.

Ministers should say yes to establishing a network of territorial employment pacts with colleges as key partners; promoting the transfer to best practice in achieving local ASCETT training targets and requiring specified planning arrangements as a condition of grant for colleges and partner organisations.

Third, the successful implementation of student-centred learning should not be understated. Ministers should say yes to assimilating Higher Still implementation with its plans for higher education; publishing a national charter for lifelong learning which recognises employability skills and non-certificate learning as legitimate; encouraging credit-transfer in all national quality audits within the self-evaluation model proposed by HMI; recognising the relationship between quality improvement, risk taking and resources and establish an institute for learning and teaching to cover further and higher education .

Finally, bulging anatomies which have afflicted some quarters must be flattened in a new age of reasonableness.

Ministers should say yes to reinstating a national bargaining structure for FE pay and conditions which continues to promote a high degree of institutional flexibility; promoting management cultures which, in line with recent advice from the Institute of Personnel and Development, harness commitments to strong workforce representation and endorsing models of personal review which go beyond and are better than appraisal.

After our 13-year yes campaign I believe that the FE sector deserves ministerial and parliamentary support for an FE claim of right. Just say yes minister. Hopefully, the Scottish Parliament will do the rest.

Graeme Hyslop is depute principal at Langside College, Glasgow and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland

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