Pension reforms under attack

14th March 1997 at 00:00
A full-scale, Dearing-style review of the structure and funding of further education has been demanded by principals, lecturers and adult education leaders.

All have pledged to put pressure on the main political parties in the run-up to the general election to back their demands. It reflects unprecedented unanimity in FE and adult education.

Leaders of the lecturers' union NATFHE put forward the proposal for a short, Dearing-style review in a meeting with Labour's back-bench education and employment MPs.

Similar moves are being considered by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Association for College Management. The call was also endorsed this week by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education.

All say that the current crisis in FE and adult education has been brought about by the failure of ministers to give a clear view of the purpose of the sector. The recent last-minute decision to scrap up to o100 million of growth cash for colleges, and the backlash on adult education and training courses, typified the confusion, leaders of the organisations said.

NATFHE general secretary John Akker said: "The crisis is so severe that there needs to be an independent inquiry into the role, functions, governance, structure, curriculum and funding of FE. There should also be an investigation into lecturers' pay rates and conditions of service."

He called for David Blunkett to launch the review - akin to a Dearing Four - within weeks of gaining office.

Mr Akker said FE funding should remain at this year's level, adjusted for inflation, until the review reported, preferably in time for the 1998-99 academic year.

"It would be very similar to Dearing for higher education," he said. "FE certainly needs to have a much higher public profile, and that's another issue that the inquiry should examine. "

Indications are that a Dearing-style review would find favour with Labour, although the party issued a wait-and-see line, stressing that no decision would be made until Sir Ron had completed his report on higher education, expected in July.

But Shadow Education Minister Bryan Davies has already promised a review of staffing in FE colleges, as well as fundamental work on teacher training and classroom standards.

An incoming Labour administration would also inherit the Government's review of franchising, the Further Education Funding Council's root and branch reviews of college priorities and the FE inspection regime as well as Helena Kennedy's fundamental reviews of funding and widening participation - all areas which require major policy decisions.

Mr Akker added: "FE is essential to the implementation of Labour's policies and they must be very seriously worried that FE is not going to deliver. We hope they will see the unanswerable logic of having an inquiry."

If such a review were launched, it would almost certainly have the backing of the Association of Colleges. Roger Ward, its chief executive, gave cautious support to the call which, he said, would have to build on the freedoms gained through incorporation. But he said: "Incorporati on has brought many advantages and the last thing anyone wants is more upheaval."

Adult education centres want a Dearing-style review to give a clearer perspective on their role. Since the 1992 FHE Act, many say they have taken the mantle from FE as the Cinderella service.

NIACE director Alan Tuckett said: "A review must look at further education as a whole, not just the colleges. Adults are in the majority in FE."

Peter Smith, the general secretary of the ATL, also backed the wider view. "If we are serious about lifelong learning, then we must see this as more than a pious phrase. We need a FE structure to reflect it."

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