Publish or be damned

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Concern widens over timing of report that sheds light on the funding gap between schools and colleges. Steve Hook reports.

Ministers have been criticised by a leading MP, colleges and the lecturers'

union for sitting on a report about the funding gap between colleges and schools.

The report is said to reveal that the gap is bigger than had previously been thought.

The Department for Education and Skills was asked by Mike Foster MP for a copy of the Learning and Skills Development Agency report, which has been kept under wraps since it was completed in mid-March.

Mr Foster's request was made in a Commons debate on post-16 education on June 21, but he revealed that the document had not been forthcoming as FE Focus went to press.

While the 16-19 education funding gap between schools and colleges has been widely reported as 10 per cent per student, it is believed the report, produced by the LSDA, puts this at up to 14 per cent, a figure that would bolster the case for more FE funding.

Colleges have cited lack of funding as a reason for failing to close the pay gap between lecturers and school teachers.

The Learning and Skills Council, which commissioned the report, plans to release it at the end of July as part of Agenda for Change - its vision for the future of the sector.

But by this time, Parliament will be in recess and colleges will be on holiday.

Mr Foster, Labour MP for Worcester, former secretary to the Parliamentary all-party FE group and a former college lecturer, said: "I am always wary of education reports coming out at the end of July. It just sends the wrong signal.

"I know the Association of Colleges wanted the report but I wanted it as an MP, as the ex-secretary of the all-party FE group and as a former FE lecturer. It is time to get it into the public domain so we can be honest with our partners because we pledged to narrow the funding gap."

Mr Foster's constituency relies entirely on FE for full-time 16-19 education because it has no school sixth forms.

The AoC attempted in vain to get the report under the Freedom of Information Act. But the LSC was able to block its release under a part of the Act which allows information to be withheld if it is intended for future publication.

The LSC argues the LSDA report will have more impact on ministers' thinking if it is published at the same time as Agenda for Change.

Rob Wye, director of strategy and communications at the LSC, said: "It is not just about funding rates but it is about funding methodology as well.

We all recognise there is an unfairness here. What we have got to do is make a case for why FE is good value for money."

John Brennan, chief executive of the AoC, said he had suspected the gap was higher than 10 per cent but, in the absence of the report, had been "cautious" about saying so because he did not want to "overstate the position."

He said: "It is in the public interest for it to be in the public domain so the debate can be fully informed. It is hard to see any element of the Agenda for Change programme which would have looked different had the report been published four months ago rather than this month."

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "We think this should be in the public domain. The reason it has not been released is because the gap is larger than anticipated.

"We have said this is the case before but we have been accused of 'crying wolf'."

Colleges call for "grown-up dialogue" 3 Comment 4

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