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16th December 1994 at 00:00
Further Education in the United Kingdom, By Vince Hall, Collins Educational Pounds 16.95, 0 00 3224031

Further education has a mixed pedigree. Vince Hall traces its ancestors back to the mechanics institute movement on one side and adult continuing education on the other in a valiant attempt to comprehend the complex animal that exists today.

Colleges evolved in a variety of ways to meet local needs for education and training. They remained viable by responding to the rapidly changing circumstances that characterise further education. Colleges were "putting customers first" long before the term was adopted by management gurus as a recipe for organisational success. Keeping customers satisfied is a complex task for institutions faced with a wide client base that includes students, TECs, awarding bodies and two government departments (Education and Employment). The outcome of interaction between them and individual colleges is an intricate system of further education that Hall unravels for the outsider looking in.

Section One begins with "What is an FE College? " There can be no satisfactory answer to this question because the differences between colleges are as significant as the features they have in common. Although the Further and Higher Education (FHE) Act 1992 provides a shared legislative framework, the end of LEA control which it brought about is likely to accentuate these differences.

The most important factor distinguishing one college from another is its student profile. Section Two considers "Who are the FE Students?" The cynical observer of recent changes in the sector might respond by claiming that most colleges will enrol anyone with a pulse in the post-incorporation scramble for students. Hall takes a more positive view, pointing out that the growth of colleges was founded on their ability to satisfy parts of the student body other educational institutions could not reach. This led to a bias for vocational and adult part-time courses. Colleges are now able to build on this strength and broaden their constituencies. For Hall, the proliferation of curriculum initiatives, new vocational qualifications and FHE funding arrangements act as catalysts in this process.

This does not mean colleges merely react passively to external changes as they arise. That would imply a constant state of fire fighting. "What Makes Further Education Work?" is the question posed in Section Three. To operate effectively, colleges will anticipate the future and play a proactive role in shaping their environment. This is a function of strategic and financial planning, governance, management and front line teaching capability which are the topics covered in the third part of the book.

Section Four considers "Where Are the Boundaries of FE?" Hall identifies three: schools, higher education and other training agencies in competition with FE to provide, for example, Youth Training. As the author explains, the map is being redrawn constantly with further education expanding into new territory as a result of intensified competition and collaborative ventures. Hall speculates as to whether the nationalisation of FE under the funding councils will cause it to grow into a major respected part of education in the United Kingdom which could be seen as the pinnacle of its development.

This book is a handy reference for college libraries, although the contents will be familiar to many people working in the sector. It will prove most useful to others who are interested or involved in further education. The book is an ideal stocking filler for college governors.

John Harris is director of Human Resources, Stanmore College, Middlesex.

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