Show us the money!

24th December 2004 at 00:00
2004 saw ambitious Government plans to expand FE's remit and colleges' increasing determination to demand the cold, hard cash needed to carry them out, writes Steve Hook

While the rest of the world seemed to be preoccupied with the financial hardships of university students, further education was quietly beavering away at tackling some pressing problems of its own.

Colleges complained that they were making the most of limited resources to help adults with basic skills and, by the end of the year, the lack of cash was even threatening to undermine their attempt to increase the number of teenagers staying in education at 16.

By the end of the year, FE ended up where it started: being bashed by Ofsted, complaining about funding but doing its best to accommodate the latest Government initiatives.

In January, Britain's biggest quango started the year attempting to make itself less bureaucratic - but still managed to create some new jobs for senior managers.

Three of the seven national directors of the Learning and Skills Council were to go, it was announced, as the quango worked to simplify its operations and provide "clear ownership and accountability within all areas of our activity."

But later in the year, nine new regional LSC directors' posts were created around the country, introducing an extra tier between national and local offices.

The European Court of Justice ruled that British part-time lecturers do not have an automatic right to equal pay with their full-time colleagues, although they may have a case for access to the teachers' pension scheme.

The ruling was made in a test case brought by lecturer Debra Allonby in 1996, which remains unresolved.

Former Department for Education and Skills civil servant John Hedger was announced as chairman of the fledgling Lifelong learning sector skills council, which would become known as Lifelong learning UK.

The organisation, responsible for standards of training among the post-16 education workforce, is expected to get its licence to operate shortly from Ruth Kelly, the education secretary.

David Hunter, chief executive of the further education national training organisation, was later to be named chief executive of the SSC. In February, the LSC announced that 200 jobs would go at its head office.

There was a familiar reaction to Mike Tomlinson's proposals for qualifications reform. The Association of Colleges said it was welcome, but there would need to be more money to make it work.

The Prince's Trust was providing education which was not adequate to "meet the reasonable needs of those young people receiving it", according to the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Girlie calendars were under threat from the Adult Learning Inspectorate as it made an example of a west country firm which had nude photographs hanging from its walls.

The ALI said the results of inspections of apprenticeship schemes would be affected if its staff spotted such material, which it considers offensive.

In March, colleges claimed they were being short-changed as ministers address the more widely-publicised hardships of universities, which were also demanding more cash.

Ministers had set their sights on 30 per cent growth in university funding, while colleges were struggling even to fund basic skills courses for the most needy adults.

In April, the Association of Colleges urged Ofsted to work more closely with its members after three more were named and shamed for being "inadequate" in the way they are run.

But if further education was continuing to complain about its lot, there was better news about one of its most important raw materials, namely the nation's teenagers.

It seemed that sulky Kevin the teenager, the character created by comedian Harry Enfield, is not representative of today's youth.

An NOP World poll found that 96 per cent of 11-18 year-olds were positive about the future, with 63 per cent believing they will be more successful than their parents.

In May, an administrative error led to thousands of students sitting a year-old exam paper.

It was a level 2 key skills paper from Edexcel, but the exam body was keen to point out that the blame rested firmly with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

A survey by The TES and the national Institute of Continuing Adult Education revealed that two-thirds of colleges were struggling to meet Government basic skills targets because they had too few staff.

Ivan Lewis, the lifelong learning minister, told further education to "get off its knees" and stop complaining about being the "Cinderella" service.

He was speaking at an Association of Colleges lobby of Parliament aimed at bringing colleges' financial pressures to the attention of MPs.

In June, Alan Johnson, further and higher education minister, told FE Focus there would be "no pouch of fairy dust" to alleviate the funding crisis which was leaving colleges unable to afford the expansion in numbers of 16-19 year-old students. As it turned out, the extra cash was forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

It was time to hold on to your bowler hat in the corridors of Whitehall, as Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, called for a cull of at least 110,000 civil service jobs.

Half of all teenagers had not had any contact with Connexions, the Government advice service for teenagers, according to a survey by the Association of Colleges.

In July, the Association of Colleges lost its chief pay negotiator Ivor Jones in a cull of top jobs as it attempted to bring its administrative costs under control.

Natfhe, representing further and higher education education lecturers, and the AUT, representing their university colleagues, announced plans to create a single trades union, with a merger to take place by 2006.

In August, probation officers were in the dock after being accused of failing to provide offenders with the kind of basic skills training they need for their rehabilitation.

The learning opportunities offered to their clients were "inflexible" and "inappropriate", according to the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Colleges complained they were being faced with unfair competition from schools opening sixth-forms with lower running costs than self-contained institutions.

In September, it was revealed that thousands of teenagers were being turned away from the Entry to Employment programme because the scheme was getting no extra cash despite increasing demand.

E2E provides tuition in subjects from motor mechanics to childcare.

Aylesbury College in Buckinghamshire became the first college to fail its re-inspection after being being judged inadequate the first time round.

In October, the bureaucracy for which further education is famous was in full swing as thousands of teenagers were left with empty pockets, thanks to red tape surrounding Education Maintenance Allowances.

A third of those who applied had still not got the cash, despite having started their studies in September.

The grants, worth up to pound;30 a week, are designed to stop teenagers dropping out of education through economic hardship.

The LSC put equal rights at the centre of its activities - or at least its bureaucracy - when it announced the creation of an "equality and diversity committee."

In November, colleges said they believed the strategic area reviews being carried out by the Learning and Skills Council were being conducted fairly, even though many thought they would end up less well-off as a result, with other providers such as private training companies likely to get a bigger share of the quango's cash.

The so-called Sars - hastily renamed Stars after the outbreak of the deadly virus - were being carried out to look at the balance of training courses in each part of the country.

Colleges suffered a fresh mauling from Ofsted as David Bell, the chief inspector, said the number of inadequate institutions was a "national disgrace."

In December, despite Ofsted's concerns about further education, schools at least had a reason to appreciate it. The Association of Colleges said its members were subsidising college-based vocational training for 14-16 year-olds, at the expense of post-16 work.

As the year drew to a close, though, there were early signs of rebellion among FE principals which could bring down the Government's plans to get more school pupils studying part-time at college.

The AoC warned this might be one area of activity which principals will be forced to stop if they don't get more funding.

Most colleges are happy to step in where schools have failed but, from 2005, they will expect to be paid in full.

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