Still crying out for freedom

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
THE MODERNITY OF FURTHER EDUCATION. Frank Reeves. Bilston College publications. Pounds 10. ISBN - 1871 526 175.

Incorporation was the most radical change ever for further education. Now that we are two years into managing the functions previously taken care of by education authorities and grappling with the Further Education Funding Council's funding methodology, it is time to take stock.

This book attempts to do that. The author, Frank Reeves, has read widely and eclectically and quotes from a huge range of material. The central thesis of his book appears to be that corporate independence is illusory and that colleges are more constrained than they ever were under the LEA's regime.

Changes to college structures and systems made as a result of incorporation may give colleges the appearance of legitimacy vis a vis business organisations but do not necessarily, the author argues, make them good at education.

The only strategic planning mechanism, he concludes, is the funding methodology itself. The value system of FE has changed. The Government only purchases training which it decides employers want. But there are worries in the sector that the impact of the funding methodology may be to de-vocationalise the sector as colleges "lop off" more expensive courses.

All non Schedule 2 work - all community education which is recreational and non-certified - must be funded elsewhere. This fundamental change will of course have had a very serious and potentially damaging effect on the fortunes of community colleges like Bilston where Frank Reeves is vice principal.

Mr Reeves talks about the elimination of the pleasure principle - learning for learning's sake. The work of the former adult education institutes will be whittled away, recreational courses only being for those who can afford them.

Fierce competition for the 16-19 market and the apparent absence of strategic planning may result in wasteful duplication of resources and in large sums of money being spent on marketing and advertising.

Where the author deals with the philosophies underlying the changes and where he relates change to industrial models the text is sometimes rather dense and perhaps inaccessible to the lay reader. This is a shame.

The Modernity of Further Education is to be commended as a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It should be prescribed reading for governing bodies.

What perhaps is now needed is another more practical, policy-orientated work likely to influence politicians, policy makers and those who manage the sector.

Marilyn Frampton is vice principal of Richmond upon Thames College

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